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.
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.