June 13, 2013

A response to Waldron on Revelation 20

by Matt Waymeyer

One of the key disagreements between amillennialism and premillennialism is whether the thousand years of Revelation 20:1-6 is present or future. According to the amillennial interpretation, this thousand-year period consists of the present age which extends from the first coming of Christ to His second coming. In contrast, premillennialism teaches that the thousand years of Revelation 20 is future and will take place immediately after the second coming.

In his book End Times Made Simple, Samuel Waldron argues for the amillennial view. In doing so, he spends three chapters on Revelation 20, starting with a discussion of various hermeneutical issues which he believes “must take center stage and precede the detailed study of the passage” (p. 85). According to Waldron, understanding and applying these hermeneutical principles is crucial to an accurate interpretation of this controversial chapter.

The first hermeneutical principle cited by Waldron involves the historical context of Revelation 20. According to Waldron:  

The first and most basic principle of biblical interpretation is known as grammatical-historical interpretation. Simply stated this fundamental principle says that the Bible must be interpreted in terms of the normal grammatical meaning of the language and in a way that makes sense in light of the historical context of the passage. The original sense of the words for the original author and readers is the true sense (p. 85).

At this point, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, applying this very approach to passages like Ezekiel 36 is what led me to become a dispensational premillennialist.

But Waldron continues by insisting that a commitment to the grammatical-historical approach poses a significant problem for the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10. Why? Because the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation to local churches in the first-century province of Asia which were being persecuted for their faith. According to Waldron:

A credible interpretation [of Revelation 20:1-10] must exhibit a clear line of connection with this historical context. Since the premillennial interpretation of this passage asserts that this passage has to do with a drastically different and far distant period of time after the return of Christ, it faces up front a problem with the principle of historical interpretation (p. 86).

According to Waldron, then, Revelation 20:1-6 cannot be interpreted as referring to a time period after the second coming of Christ if it is to “exhibit a clear line of connection” with the historical context of the Apocalypse.

The problem with Waldron’s argument is that it proves too much. After all, what about a passage like Revelation 20:11-15? Waldron certainly agrees that the judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15 will take place in a “far distant period of time after the return of Christ.” But that violates (according to Waldron) the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation in precisely the same way that he accuses the premillennialist of doing with Revelation 20:1-10.  Its hard to understand how the amillennialist can be fine with Revelation 20:11-15 being in a far and distant future, but reject that verses 1-10 could also be future.

Conflicting Signals

To further illustrate the problem with Waldron’s logic, let’s apply this same argument to yet another vision in the Apocalypse—Revelation 21:1-8. In this passage, the apostle John describes his vision of the new heaven and the new earth, a vision which Waldron correctly interprets as a description of what will happen in the distant future, after the second coming of Christ. But couldn’t a hyper preterist argue that Revelation 21:1-8 has been fulfilled in the present age by using Waldron’s logic? In other words, couldn’t a hyper preterist say:

 A credible interpretation of Revelation 21:1-8 must exhibit a clear line of connection with the historical context of the book of Revelation. Since the futuristic interpretation of Revelation 21:1-8 has to do with a drastically different and far distant period of time after the return of Christ, it faces up front a problem with the principle of historical interpretation.

Put simply, the historical background of the book of Revelation presents no more a problem for the futuristic interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 than it does for the futuristic interpretation of Revelation 21:1-8. There are legitimate arguments that can be made against the premillennial view of Revelation 20, but I don’t understand how this could be one of them.

Matt Waymeyer

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Matt teaches hermeneutics and Greek at The Expositor's Bible Seminary in Jupiter, FL.
  • Jaco De Beer

    Please explain the following:

    1. Why must a temple be rebuild if it was a shadow of Christ that already came?
    2. Why must offers be reinstated if Christ was the final offer?
    3. Why must feasts be reinstated with priestly duties if they were shadows that was totally abolished by Christ first coming (Heb 10)?
    3. How does unbelievers pass through the judgement after the tribulation to be part of a 1000 years?
    4. How does unbelievers that marry and have children end up together with glorified saints who do not marry and have children. This means you have sin and holiness in one era together with Christ in a so-called era of peace reign of Christ.
    5. Jesus taught two eras. This era and the next. He said in this era you will marry, have kids and die. The next era will be marked by no marriage, no death and no reproduction. Judgement separated the two.
    6. Why will God allow so many Christians to die today for their faith, but the Jews can disobey the gospel and pass through to get another chance in the future.|
    7. Dispensational view gives the Jews centre stage and not Christ.

    • Hey Jaco–what would be helpful is for you to put what Bible verses you are talking about. So instead of answering your questions, let me punt back to you, and ask you to repost your comment with the Scripture reference you are talking about. Cool? I’ll leave it up for a few hours, and I’ll take it down when you repost. Thanks.

      • Jaco De Beer

        My problem is with the dispensation view that sees a temple, offers and feasts in a millennial period after the rapture. I feel that does not agree with the Bible that says all these Old Testament practises that was shadows of things to come is abolished as Heb. 10 explains.

        The questions I have raised is problems I have with the nature of the millennium which I believe does not fit the pure and simple purpose of the Gospel.

        If Christ already appeared for Jew and Gentile, why must he reappeared and the temple be rebuild to convince the Jews that their Messiah is now here. The only thing according to the Bible left today, is “repent and believe the gospel”.

        The remnant among Israel will be saved as stated by Rom. 11, but I do not see a future millennium in the New Testament necessary for this.

        What is the purpose of the rebuilding of the temple and reinstating scarifies with priestly duties in a future dispensation if Christ was sacrificed already. This is a serious denying of what was already done.

        • Fred Butler

          Jaco,
          See my comment below for some links to blog posts I have written addressing Ezekiel’s temple. But that stated, are you then of the opinion that you dismissively wave away 9 chapters of detailed revelation by the prophet Ezekiel that speaks of a temple he says will be rebuilt? A temple that hasn’t been rebuilt at any time in the history of Israel or the world for that matter.

          • Jaco De Beer

            I do not wave it, but we cannot say something that does not fit the heart of the gospel.

            There must be a better understanding of Ezekiel that put Christ and the gospel in the centre. An interpretation that highlight the finished work of Christ on the Cross with the only message of repent and believe. Because that was what Jesus and the apostles preached to the Jews.

            The Bible place Jesus at centre stage and not the Jews. This interpretation place the Jews in centre stage and Christ finished and sufficient work secondary. Jesus Christ already did what every Jew need for salvation.

            I honestly do not agree with a millennial age with all the shadows of the old testament restored. It does not fit the gospel and New Testament focus.

            To say Christ must return to restored temple for the sake of the Jews is to say His first appearance was only for Gentiles and had no significance for the Jews. He came to His own. Jesus sent the 72 to the Jews first. The gospel came directly to the Jews first. The remnant will believe and be saved before the return of Christ as per God’s election.

            God’s people from the Old Testament is still being build as was promised to Abraham. The seed of Abraham is increasing from the Old and has not stopped. Faith in the foreshadowing of Christ is what saved Abraham and his descendants in the same way as in the new. In the new testament people are added to the people of God by faith in Christ as well. The wild olives and the natural olives are all planted on the olive tree that is Christ. God’s programme in the Old Testament was mainly Israel and an elected few Gentiles like Rahab. In the New Testament, God’s programme is exactly the same, but now He has included all nations by the same faith in Christ as in the old.

            Why must Christ reappear to an earthly dispensation to convince the Jews that He is the Christ and that He already came. This screams against the first appearance of Christ.

            This is unfair towards Gentiles who are judged by the same rejection of Christ as the Jews. God is a righteous judge and will not give the Jews a false hope of a future chance today while Christ has come and they must repent.

    • And along with those biblical passages that Jesse’s asked for, Jaco, I would appreciate getting your take, along the lines of your #s 1-3, on why the Passover must be “reinstated” if Passover was a shadow totally abolished by Christ at His first coming, since Christ our Passover has been sacrificed (Luke 22:15-16). Thanks.

  • Kirby Johnson

    Excellent work Pastor Johnson. I heard long ago that Amillennialists do interpretive injustices to Rev 20, but haven’t had time to investigate. That was a succinct and focused explanation of one key issue. Thank you.

    • Actually, Matt wrote this post. It loaded with my name this morning, but I fixed it. Sorry about that. I’m sure Matt would say “You’re welcome” if Californians were awake yet.

  • Fred Butler

    Being the shameless self-promoter that I am, I also did a review of a similar work by Dr. Waldron’s called, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto, along with accompanying critiques of his various arguments against premillennialism.

    That can be read here,

    http://hipandthigh.wordpress.com/category/samuel-waldron/

    Moreover, I have a larger series on eschatology proper that will interact with a lot of Jaco’s questions, including the stuff about Ezekiel’s temple,

    http://hipandthigh.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/studies-in-eschatology/

    Additionally, so as not to detract from Matt’s article here, may I also recommend you get a copy of his small title on Revelation 20 that is packed with tremendous material to dig through. On sale right now at Kress,

    http://www.kressbiblical.com/products/Revelation-20-and-the-Millennial-Debate.html

    • Thanks for those links Fred. I wrote a response to the MacArthur Millennial Manifesto as well, which is linked in “related posts” above.

  • Scott Christensen

    I would like to add that Matt Waymeyer’s book “Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate” published by Kress Christian Publications is the best treatment of Revelation 20:1-10 in print, period. His exegesis and argumentation is clear, compelling and in my mind irrefutable. I know of at least one person who became a Premillennialist as a result of reading this great little book. Thanks Matt!

    • I thought the content of Matt’s work was also very good! It was organized in a way that was easy to follow! One thing that I thought was worth improving on was the presentation of the citation/end note…I remember having a frustrating time with it since I usually follow every end note in a book.

  • Drew Sparks

    Great post.

  • Thanks, Matt. On Rev 20, I’ve always valued Alford’s remark (Greek Testament, 4:732): “.. if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; – then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything”!

    The hermeneutical issue at play on this question is what makes it an important one for the Church. Thanks, again, for the help. Press on.

  • Well done.

  • Alwaysthere

    One part of this debate that is frustrating for an average Christian (me) with perhaps an above average understanding of Systematic Theology on the main topics (i.e the …ologies), is I can understand the Dispensational system, but get totally lost when reading or listening to the Convental / Amil camp, I can NEVER follow which verses are symbolic and which are not, so after an hour or so I give up out of frustration. I really do not mean to pick on any one, but the statement made about “Christ is the center stage not the Jews” is one of the most frustrating aspects of this, I hear it a lot and I agree Christ is the center, but that does not mean God has nothing to say about the Jews, Gentiles and thousands of other topics in the Bible. Are we supposed to discount everything the Bible states that are not Christo-centric ?

    • MarkO

      Alwaysthere,

      Which parts of Rev 20 statements about Satan being bound with a chain, thrown in a bottomless pit and sealed up that he might not deceive the nations are statements that are “symbolic or not”?

      • alwaysthere

        I don’t know – At this point I believe this is a future event, and have no reason not to accept them as literal. There are material terms and immaterial terms in that verse, the pit and chains are material terms and could be symbolic the deceptive statements are immaterial and probably not symbolic. But in our resurrected state they may not be symbolic…But since you asked, it seems foolish to believe that Satan is currently bound.

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  • bobbygrow

    Good post, Matt. You know I’ve returned to the premil fold, just not as a dispy, but historic premil. 🙂 I’ve returned for other reasons than what you are arguing in this post by the way.

    • We are like Nats baseball–we’ll take wins anyway they come.

  • busdriver4jesus

    I’ve jokingly heard the dispie position described as “mortar theology”: it flies way over the heads of the original audience to land miles away (in the future). I’ll add one more question to Jaco’s: referring to believers who survived the Tribulation in the Millenium, how can “flesh and blood inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor 15:50)?

    • elainebitt

      I will answer that with a question, if I may. Is the earthly milennial kingdom the Kingdom of God?