From:  Reinterpreting Revelation Twenty                                      Return to Home       

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                  © 2014

 

 

 

 

[Page 80] 

 

 

 

Chapter Two:

The Evidence for Bimillennialism

(Revelation 20:4-6)

 

 


            20:4 (KJV):  And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them:  and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 

NASB:  And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

 

[Page 81]           20:5:  But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection. 

NASB:  But the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.  This is the first resurrection.

 

20:6:  Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection:  on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. 

NASB:  Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.  

 

 

            At this point, our exegesis will depart radically from that proposed by both premillenialists and amillenialists.  It bears a superficial similarity in its key tenet to one proposed in the eighteenth century by the German scholar John Albert Bengel and endorsed by the pioneer Methodist minister John Wesley.  After briefly presenting what I regard as the key evidence for bimillenialism—parts of which will be expounded upon at greater length in later textual study of the chapter—we will analyze their earlier approach and why I regard it as inadequate though an important conceptual step in the right direction.

 

[Page 82]           In the interpretation we propose, acknowledgement of John’s chronological placement of “the first resurrection” is vital and essential.  Over-looked by nearly all readers is where he consciously places that event:  At the end of the millennium of martyrs:

 

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.  This is the first resurrection.  (Verse 5)    

 

            It is placed not at the beginning of the millennium of verse 4, but at its ending.  Note carefully what reward is given to those in that resurrection which occurs at the end of the martyr’s reign:

 

Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  (Verse 6)

 

            We have three key facts presented to us:

 

·       The martyrs “reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (verse 4);

·       The “first resurrection” occurs when their reign ends (verse 5):

·       Those who partake in that resurrection themselves “reign with Him for a thousand years.”

 

[Page 83]           Hence what John verbally paints is not the much touted “millennium” but, rather, the existence of a double or two millenniums—a doctrine of “Bimillennialism” if you will, to use the phrase coined years ago by a Washington state minister-friend who was intrigued by this analysis.

 

A close reading of verse 4 (the First Millennium) and verse 6 (the Second Millennium) reinforces the reasonableness of what we have asserted by providing us dramatically different pictures of the two time periods:

 

 

1.  The First Millennium is described in terms of already having begun; the Second Millennium is presented in tenses and terms showing it is to be yet future.

 

Verse 4:  And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

 

Verse 6:  Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

 

[Page 84]           Although there is such a phenomena as an “apocalyptic present tense” in which distant events are presented as if contemporary with the prophet, this could hardly be the case here for there is no reason for the (supposedly) same event to be pictured as present in one verse and yet in strictly future terms only two verses later.  If only one one millennium exists, this shift seems utterly inexplicable.

           

Refuge can not be taken in other translations for they render in similar terms as these representatives examples show:

 

The First Millennium in verse 4:

 

·       Sat upon them:”  ASV; “sat on them,” NKJV; “seated on them,” ESV, Holman, RSV; “were seated,” NIV

·       Was given:”  “Were given,” Holman; “had been given,” NIV; “was committed,” ASV, ESV, NKJV, RSV.

·       Came to life:”  ESV, Holman, NIV, RSV; “Lived,” ASV, NKJV

·       Reigned:”  ASV, ESV, Holman, NIV, NKJV, RSV    

 

 

In contrast, the Second Millennium in verse 6:

 

·       Will be priests:”  ESV, Holman, NIV; “shall be priests,” ASV, NKJV, RSV

·       Will reign:”  ESV, Holman, NIV; “shall reign,” ASV, NKJV, RSV

 

[Page 85]           Note that the “tense pattern” is consistent though the exact word choice may vary:  the millennium of verse 4 is consistently pictured in words indicating it was then currently in existence (or, if one wishes to quibble, in terms of as if then currently present) while that millennium of verse 6 is consistently pictured in language of being yet in the future.

 

How can this have been accidental?  How could the picture so dramatically shift from one verse to the other if the traditional reading of a single millennium were correct?

 

 

2.  The “nature of existence” (for lack of a better expression) is different in the two millenniums.

 

            Those reigning in the first Millennium are explicitly described as “the souls” of those who died for their faith.  In contrast, those in the Second Millennium are explicitly described as having gone through the “resurrection.”  Although metaphorical meanings of that term are possible, the normal connotation would be that of a physical resurrection and having a body changed for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

           

If the same period of time is considered in both verses 4 and 6 one would expect either a “spiritual” (“soul”) image of man to be found in  both texts or a “physical” (“resurrection”) allusion/language—not a shift from one to the other.  We would expect such a dramatic shift only if the subject matter has also shifted—as we have suggested, from the First to the Second Millennium.

 

[Page 86]           Even if some figurative meaning of “resurrection” be attempted, the fact of contrast remains.  Especially when mentioned in the same context, we naturally think of “souls” as being distinguished from our human body; while we think of a “resurrection” as the point at which the soul and body are “reunited.”  How then can the two very different images be capable of referring to the same millennium?

           

So if this be a “spiritual resurrection” (whatever that would mean in the current  context!), the fact remains that verse four presents the faithful reigning while in their “soul” form while verse 6 presents them as reigning in their changed / “resurrected” form.  Once again:  Why in the world would there be a shift in imagery if this were all part of the same thousand years?   

           

Nor can it be successfully contended that “souls” in Revelation 20:4 is equivalent to the whole person as a living entity.  Although “soul / souls” is sometimes used as synonymous with the entire person (i.e., of a living flesh and blood being) the Scriptures also distinguish between the inner being / soul and the human body that “encases” it (Matthew 10:28).  It is in this latter sense that “souls” is used in Revelation 2:4:  The text itself distinguishes the “souls” from the physical bodies they had previously occupied:  “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded. . . .”  Hence they were souls separated from their physical bodies rather than being souls as physical, earthly bodies.

           

Some would object:  How can a soul exist separate from a physical body?  The obvious reply to this is:  How can a soul exist in a body and yet maintain its separateness?  The objector could no more answer my question than I could his; we are dealing in an area where revelation has not been explicit, quite possibly because we couldn’t adequately grasp it even if it had been.

 

[Page 87]           The “souls” are pictured as active in God’s service in verse 2:  we naturally impose on that the idea of having “bodies” for how else can our human imagination impose order and meaning upon the concept?  Yet they certainly can’t be “bodies” in the physical sense we normally consider for 1 Corinthians 15 indicates that the soul will not be reunited with that kind of body until Christ’s second coming.

 

            Furthermore, one should consider the story of the beggar Lazarus.  Who would deny that it was the soul of him and the rich man (Luke 16) that was taken to the Hadean world?  Yet they are pictured as “embodied” even though not embodied any longer in the flesh.  So “embodiment” in something else than flesh seems a given—or that the soul is able to act as if embodied though separate from the flesh. 

 

Take either approach you wish, but making the “soul” a synonym with the resurrected body in the First Millennium is simply incompatible with the fact that the reigning souls are from “those who had been beheaded.”  Hence they were dead, not yet resurrected.

 

 

            3.  The prerequisites for participating in the reign of Christ differ between the two millenniums.

 

            The millennium of verse 4 is that of “the souls of those who had been beheaded.”  Regardless of how narrow or broadly one construes that description of “beheaded”—and we will discuss that in a later chapter—one is faced in verse 6 with as far different a group as conceivable.  In that passage those who are resurrected (i.e., all faithful Christians) are partakers in the reign.  A narrowly defined group is contrasted with a broader all-encompassing group:  two time periods; two groups; two millenniums.

[Page 88]

 

            4.  The “work” performed during the two millenniums is pictured as different.

 

            Those partaking of the First Millennium are involved in what is called “judgment” (verse 4).  If there is anything else, it is so (comparatively) secondary or less significant that it is not even mentioned.  Judgment is their central and key function; it is presented as if their one and exclusive mission.

           

However if we turn to the Second Millennium, we discover the total absence of any reference to this kind of activity.  Here they are simply and, so far as the text goes, functioning as one thing and one thing only--as “priests of God and of Christ.”  Once again, whatever other activities and obligations exist are omitted from the picture as irrelevant and unimportant compared to this core function.  They are portrayed exclusively in one role.  A dramatically different one.

           

How then can John be thinking in terms of only one millennium?

 

 

*

[Page 89]         

            Perhaps the impact of our argument can be maximized if we bring all these four points together.

 

                                                            First Millennium         Second Millennium   

 

            Time frame . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -  Already begun        Then yet future         

 

            Nature of existence

of participants - “Souls”                    The resurrected

 

            Conditions for participation  -  Martyrdom Faithful believers

 

            Work performed                    -  “Judgment”            “Priests”

  

 

            No matter how much we “figurativize” these facts, the clear contrasts remain.  One such contrast we might dismiss as mere questionable interpretation or inadequate data by which to support such a drastic revised reading of the passage as we have proposed.  When we find not one, but four such major contrasts in a matter of three verses (two actually, verses 4 and 6) such a rhetorical escape hatch is sealed shut.

           

We have seen two lines of evidence for Bimillennialism, both powerful in its own right but even more compelling when combined with the other.

 

[Page 90]           The first is a close reading of the text, which places the “first resurrection” at the end of a thousand years and then clearly specifies that those in that resurrection will themselves rule (another) thousand years.  The second are the multiple contrasts between the millennium of verse 4 and that of verse 6.

 

            These two forms of evidence interlock:  Because of the text’s distinction between the two millenniums required by verse 5, we would expect there to be substantial differences or there would only have been one period to begin with.  On the other hand, once we recognize that there are substantial divergences, the natural conclusion would be that the writer intended us to deduce from that fact the existence of two separate thousand year eras.  Detect either fact and it immediately makes you ready to look for the other.

     

 

Arguments against Bimillennialism

 

            There are three fundamental objections to Bimillennialism:  one is based upon the assumption that monomillennialism must be correct and sets out to add the necessary function to make the text consistent with that assumed “correct” approach.  The second revolves around the meaning of two terms in the text and whether they function as synonyms or represent something considerably different from each other.

 

 

[Page 91]

1.  The interjection hypothesis.

 

           

            To make this work requires the mere insertion of parentheses or brackets since the thought is a parenthetical assertion and nothing more:

 

And they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  (But the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.)  This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years

 

            This way the effort is made to have verse 6 continue the thought of 5a rather than 5b.  5b is effectively ripped out of the natural thought flow and treated as an interjection of what doesn’t happen until after the single/identical millennium of verses 5a and 6 are completed.

 

            There is nothing in the manuscripts to decide this point pro or con since the earliest ones, of course, lack all punctuation and even sentence breaks.  However there is nothing in the text that would require such an interpretation either and unless one assumes a priori that monomillennialism is correct, there would be no reason to put it in the text.

 

            Most translations leave determining the meaning up to the reader without the interposition of such “helpfulness.”  The KJV, ASV, ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, NKJV, and ASV lack it.  The NIV elects to insert it.  The proposed parentheses are added upon the basis of an assumed correct exegesis rather than on the basis of anything the text itself requires.    

 

[Page 92]           Weymouth’s often fine translation removes monomillennialism’s problem by assuming it is correct and rearranging the wording of the text from what it actually says:  “And I saw thrones, and some who were seated on them, to whom judgment was entrusted . . . and they came to Life and were kings with Christ for a thousand years.   No one else who was dead rose to Life until the thousand years were at an end. This is the First Resurrection.”

 

            Weymouth quite effectively removes the problem.  Of course when one arbitrarily rearranges the text without any apparent manuscript support, it automatically raises the question of whether insight or theological axe-grinding has triumphed.  Presumably he did it because of the assumption that we will examine as our second argument in behalf of monomillennialism, given next.

 

            On the basis of actual textual evidence, 5b should be interpreted on the basis of exactly where it is found.  That it is an interjection concerning what happens after a verse and a half later remains an unproved assumption. 

 

Treat it as belonging exactly where the manuscript tradition has preserved it and it is a fatal blow to traditional interpretation of the text.  The statement simply does NOT BELONG AT THIS POINT IN THE PASSAGE if only one millennium is under discussion.  If the words really refer to the end of that monomillennium, what is it doing in the middle of it being discussed, with description of that single millennium coming both before and after as if two separate periods of time are under discussion?

 

[Page 93]           For the single millennium hypothesis to be true, the normal location—indeed, we could say the only proper place for the alleged interjection about what happens after the one millennium is over—would be at the conclusion of verse 6.  Having completed the discussion of the claimed monomillennium, “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed” makes complete sense . . . for it introduces the element of what comes next, after it is over and done with.  In its current location, it only logically serves as the introduction to a second millennium. 

 

            In short the scenario fails on the basis of the actual location of the text in what gives ever indication to be its transparently wrong place if monomillennialism is true.  On top of that, the manuscript tradition places it exactly there and not where it ought to be if only one millennium is under discussion in the context.

 

There appears to be only one way to overcome these difficulties and that is the scenario that we discuss next.

 

 

 

2. Does “come to live” (verse 4) require the resurrection of verse 6?

 

[Page 94]

            If so, this would be a powerful argument against one of the major distinctions we have proposed between the two millenniums.  In the First Millennium they “came to life”—how is not stated. 

 

            That they were physically dead is found in 20:4 itself:  these are the “souls of those who had been beheaded because” of their following Jesus and God and their refusal to worship the beast—either in place of or in addition to God.  They had already become spiritually alive in this life by their conversion to Christ.  How do you come alive in the next life? 

            Would not being immediately rewarded in the afterlife by being allowed to enter heaven instead of remaining in Hades until Jesus return function quite well as a form of being made alive again?  In other words, their ruling in heaven would occur simultaneously with other Christians living their fleshly lives out on earth, i.e., with our current age.

 

            Although the fact that they were killed is certainly worth considering as an indication that “came to life” means resurrection, we have presented a worthy use of “came to life” (being taken to heaven) that could occur independent of that event.  Furthermore our text insists that it was their “souls” that ruled:  when it is immediately added that these people were dead by beheading, it would have to follow that they were ruling in their “soul” form and not in a physical bodily form—i.e., prior to the resurrection.

 

            In contrast, those in the Second Millennium “come to life” by the specified means of resurrection (verse 6).  It distinguishes between the manner these “came to life” in contrast with the other group.

 

[Page 95]           Furthermore, the First Millennium involves those who had been martyrs.  One could take this as synonymous with those first Christians who were the most likely to face that danger—in contrast to those who came later.  If we restrict it to its far more probable intent of actual martyrs—if it intended more, why didn’t it come out and say so?—then you have the Reign of the Martyrs in the First Millennium and the Reign of All Believers in the Second Millennium.

 

            Indeed, if the bodily resurrection occurs in verse 4, then all believers should have been available to join in the reign and the reigners would not have been labeled by language properly applicable only to a relatively small group as those dying for the cause of the gospel.  Hence we once again have no reason to require the two expressions (“come alive” and “resurrection”) to be treated as synonymous in our text.

 

            Finally, we are once again reduced to root assumptions to vindicate the traditional approach:  If one assumes that there is only one millennium under discussion we have to make the two expressions synonyms.  Only if one grants that monomillennial assumption is there any need to commingle the two descriptions into one.  And when one is compelled to act in that fashion, one is faced with the discordant pieces of data we have discussed.  They cry out for us to look beyond the traditional reading of the text and to reexamine our root assumptions.      

 

 

[Page 96]

3. Why is Satan’s release placed after the second millennium in verse 7 when it historically occurs after the first millennium which ends at verse 4?

 

 

As we read the text, verses four to six represent the two stages of Christ’s triumph:  in the here and now and in eternity.

 

Having presented this victory played out to its ultimate state, the following verses return to Satan’s release and the Lord’s final victory.  This “retreating in time” might seem strange, but it is a legitimate narrative technique:  giving you the “overview” and then the details. 

 

In a similar manner creation is presented from an overall account in Genesis one, while chapter two overlaps it through tracing one particular aspect, the creation of mortals and its results.  Strict chronology is violated, but because the author sees the need to make his readers fully aware that Jesus’ victory is not a mere temporary fluke but a permanent one and that Satan’s release will not alter that fact.

 

In all candor, if Bimillennialism has a weak point, this is likely where it is to be found.  On the other hand, the evidence for two millenniums is strongly rooted in the text itself.  And the explanation we have given is a responsible one.  And the existence of a problem in interpreting the text in no way eliminates that evidence. 

 

[Page 97]           If one rejects our reconciliation, then the need would be to seek out an alternative, more viable one.  One such might be the second second interpretive option we will examine below.

 

 

*

 

            Having concisely reviewed all this information, what are we to “do with” Bimillennialism if we embrace it?  What kind of exegesis does it lead to?  To briefly anticipate our later discussion, the two most appealing scenarios around which to develop the verses seem to be the following.  

 

 

 

Scenario One

 

 

            The First Millennium is the gospel age, from Christ’s triumph over Satan in the first century to His return in judgment at the end of the world; the Second Millennium represents the eternity of heaven itself.  Satan is briefly freed at the end of the First Millennium, to be banished by the Lord at His coming. 

 

[Page 98]          Since eternity is pictured as, symbolically, a thousand years, decisive evidence is found that the First Millennium did not have to be numerically literal either, thereby removing the traditional objection to any interpretation that makes it equal to the Christian dispensation.  This also obliterates the unbelievers’ argument that the Christians expected the end of the world in their lifetime.  Yes, they expected Jesus to return in temporal judgment at least once (such as in Matthew 24), but they did not expect the final “wrapup” of human affairs until far, far away.  “A thousand years.”  At least if they were paying close attention to what John wrote. 

 

Indeed the Apocalypse is quite emphatic in placing most of its events in the category of being “near.”  But for that final “wrapup” of earthly matters, that is placed “a thousand years” away.  The obvious contrast is near = short term and a thousand years = far distant.  Even if one reads the text in a monomillennial sense, then the event was still far distant.  For those of us who “harp” loudly on respecting the “nearness” language of so much of the book, the “distance” language surely must be respected just as much! 
           

Perhaps the weakest element in this approach is the fact that both the millennium currently proceeding and the eternal millennium of heaven are pictured as the kingdom of Christ while in 1 Corinthians 15 we find that at “the end” the Lord “delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father” (verse 24) and is Himself subjected to Him (verse 28).  Is it any longer Christ’s kingdom—at least in the sense that it had been previously?

 

The key is “in the sense that it had been previously.”  Perhaps this is why in the First Millennium the martyrs are only pictured as “reign[ing] with Christ” (verse 4), while in the Second Millennium we find the two names “of God and of Christ” both being mentioned (verse 6).  Their reign with Christ at this point now involves the Father ruling over them as well while He was not mentioned at all in regard to the First Millennium.  In the First attention is centered on Christ ruling while in the Second attention is on both ruling.

 

[Page 99]           The alternative to a change to co-rulership of the kingdom—for lack of any better expression—avoids the dilemmas of the Father never getting the kingdom returned and that of Christ having to totally give up His position.  If Jesus does play a continuing major role (and surely we have every reason to assume it) our reigning with Him would still be an understandable expression even though His Father is now titular and official monarch.

 

For that matter, even in the current millennium, though Christ is put front and forward as King, it is not as if He were ruling independently and without any input from His Father for we read, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21).  Not “in place of” but “with.”        

 

 

 

Scenario Two

 

 

            In this approach both millenniums are placed this side of eternity.  The first represents a period when martyrs were honored with a special, early role in reigning with Christ due to their suffering on earth.  (This could be taken either in a strict sense of literal martyrs or those living in such dangerous times and places that real faithfulness made all potential martyrs and hence counted worthy of immediately sharing in the reign.)  In the Second Millennium, all faithful Christians begin to play a role.

 

[Page 100]         Historically this seems quite questionable.  There have been periods of relative peace for believers, but even then it often hinged on what part of the world you lived in.  A prolonged, “universal” (or nearly so) peace?  Well if the Second Millennium is to be of that a nature, we certainly don’t have it today and one wonders whether it is even possible given the nature of mankind’s stubborn opposition to good character and the quest for faith.

 

            Above and beyond this, the most assailable element in this approach is the difficulty of arriving at a credible meaning for “resurrection” in verse 6.  With the first scenario one has a strong contrast between the two periods:  the first involves “coming to life” while the second involves a literal bodily resurrection.  Furthermore, the “resurrection” needs to be something different from the “coming to life” in order to maintain a contrast between the two periods. 

 

Some type of metaphorical resurrection—such as that of the gospel being “reborn” in its purity as against the ages in which it had been grievously diluted by church tradition—would be one possible approach, but both “came to life” and “resurrection” are terms normally attached to people rather than belief systems. 

 

Hence it would seem preferable for some different concept to be invoked.  (We will examine the resurrected truth concept in greater detail in a later chapter.)  I suppose one could argue that since belief systems are reflected in what concrete individuals actually do and say, that one could argue that the expressions of their faith would effectively constitute a “resurrection” of “living faith,” so to speak.

[Page 101]     

           

The first scenario appears to be inherently the strongest and have the least difficulties overall.  Of course, it is quite possible that somewhere there is a third scenario that allows one to better incorporate the manifest fact that the text has been chronically misread. 

 

Even if it should turn out that I have faltered and carried Bimillennialism only part way to its correct interpretation, the purpose of this book will have been amply fulfilled if it stirs creative thinking.  You can not resolve a problem until you recognize it exists.  Until now virtually no one has been aware of this persistent misreading of the text.  Aware of it, careful Bible students and scholars can work to refine Bimillennialism, to polish it, and to incorporate it into their own exegesis.  

     

 

*

 

Ancient Thought on the Length

of the Messianic Reign

 

 

[Page 102]         Jewish thought as to the length of the Messianic reign varied over an extremely wide range.  One of their options was a two thousand year rule, which does not in any way prove that John has adopted that number but that the concept was far from unknown in contemporary and later Jewish thought.

 

J. M. Ford in his Anchor Bible entry on Revelation provides this useful, compact summary:[1]   

           

The early rabbis gave a good deal of attention to calculating the duration of the messianic age. . . .  There was no settled tradition except that it would be a limited intermediate period between the present age and the age to come.  The following list comes from Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, III, 826:

                        Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (A.D. 90) suggested a thousand years;

                        Joshua (A.D. 90), two thousand years;

                        Eleazar ben Azariah (A.D. 100), seventy years;

                        Akiba (A.D. 135), forty years;

                        Jose of Galilee (A.D. 110), sixty years;

                        Dasa (A.D. 180), six hundred years;

                        Eliezer ben Jose of Galilee (A.D. 150), four hundred years;

                        A number of rabbis about A.D. 90 said two thousand years.

                        Eliezer is the oldest rabbinic authority to name the extent of a

thousand years for the messianic period.

                         

[Page 103]         Hence John’s readers would have found nothing startling in a two thousand year reign, whether it was the duration they personally had anticipated or not.  They would likely have been surprised at the way the period is divided.  In rabbinic thought the messiah rules until a new era of human history is inaugurated, the “world to come.”  If the Bimillennial reconstruction is sound, then John views the reign as beginning in this current world and lasting for the indefinitely long period he calls a “thousand years” and continuing in some meaningful sense (as active coregent with/under) the Father in what we traditionally call eternity.  Unlike earthly kingdoms, therefore, that of the Messiah never actually comes to an end.  

 

            How did the rabbis come up with these numbers?  If they claimed it was by Divine revelation—as John attributes the Apocalypse to (Revelation 1:1-3)—one can either embrace it as what it claims to be or dismiss the claim as based on a fanciful illusion.  The rabbis, however, typically came up with their numbers by what they clearly considered reasonable scriptural exegesis, but which we would have far greater difficulty in embracing as such.  From the Talmud we give the following examples:[2]    

 

It has been taught:  R. Eliezer said:  The days of the Messiah will last forty years, as it is written, Forty years long shall I take hold of the generation.

 

R. Eleazar B. Azariah said:  Seventy years, as it is written, And it shall come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king.  Now who is this one [uniquely distinguished] king?  The Messiah, of course.

 

[Page 104]         Rabbi [unidentified, RW] said:  Three generations; for it is written, They shall fear thee with the sun, and before the moon [they shall fear thee], a generation and generations. . . .

 

Another [Translator:  Baraitha] taught:  R. Eliezer said:  The days of the Messiah will be forty years.  Here it is written:  And he afflicted thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna [i.e., during the wilderness wandering, RW]; while elsewhere it is written, make us glad, according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us. 

 

R. Dorsa said:  Four hundred years.  It is here written, And they shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years, whilst elsewhere it is written, Make us glad, according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us.

 

Rabbi [unidentified, RW] said:  Three hundred and sixty-five years, even as the days of the solar year, as it is written, For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redemption is come. . . .      

 

Abini the son of R. Abbahu learned:  The days of Israel’s Messiah shall be seven thousand years, as it is written, And as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.  [Translator’s comment:  The bridegroom’s rejoicing is seven days, and God’s day is a thousand years.  Cf. Psalms 90:4.]

 

Rab Judah said in Samuel’s name:  The days of the Messiah shall endure as long as from the Creation until now, as it is written, [That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give to them,] as the days of heaven upon the earth.

 

[Page 105]         R. Nahman b. Isaac said:  As long as from Noah’s day until our own, as it is written, For this is as the waters of Noah, which are mine, so I have sworn etc.  

 

            Basically their reasoning seems to be:  “Since the scripture says this, then it would be highly reasonable if the Messianic reign is this long.”  In other words it is not so much that the Scripture actually predicts these numbers, but that it would be in a accord with Old Testament precedent on other matters.  It fits.  It is appropriate.  Therefore there is nothing wrong with embracing it as a secondary application of the original text.

           

Exegesis in the sense that we would normally use the term, this is not.  We expect something clear cut or at least heavily implicit for us to make the application that they do.  They did not, it seems clear, require such though we can at least grasp why they should consider some of these appropriate parallels:  forty years of suffering in the wilderness leads to a forty year Messianic rule because God wanted their rejoicing to have as many “days” as their suffering; four hundred years of punishment leads to a four hundred year reign since God wanted the time of rejoicing to be as long as the time of affliction.  These rise at least a bit above the level of mere “appropriateness,” though that seems to have been the fundamental concept they all used on this subject. 

 

 

[Page 106]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three:

The Bengel-Wesley

Double Millennium Scenario

(Revelation 20:4-6)

 

 

            Having come to the Bimellennial approach through my own independent thought, my first reaction in the early Sixties was, “I’ve never heard anything like this before.”  In all candor, a fellow college student talked me out of it, but I honestly can not recall what his argument was.  When I gave it further thought a number of years later my reaction was, “It sure does sound like two millenniums!”  Yet I still had not encountered any one advocating such an approach.

           

By the early 1980s when I began major research for the earlier draft of this book in one of the larger seminary libraries on the East Coast, I could discover no modern writer of either the nineteenth or twentieth century who advocated reading the passage in this fashion.  Indeed, I only discovered one modern commentator who seemed to be even consciously aware of the possibility that “this is the first resurrection” could apply to an event at the end of the millennium of verse 4.  Leon Morris, Principal, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia, wrote in 1969 in regard to verse 5:[3]

[Page 107]

The martyrs are thus differentiated from others.  The rest must await the conclusion of the 1,000 years.  Grammatically, “this is the first resurrection” could refer to the raising at the end of the 1,000 years (our emphasis, RW).  But the sense appears to require that it be taken to denote the raising of the martyrs to life in glory with Christ.

 

            At this point he verges off into the question of the pre-millennial interpretation of “first resurrection.”  Since this is the aspect of the verse that is central to both pre- and amillennial interpreters, few readers are likely to grasp the significance of the possibility he has raised and how it could force the interpretation into a path unfamiliar to either approach.  As to whether “the sense” requires it to refer back to the beginning of the millennium, the previous chapter’s discussion of the four significant differences between the millenniums of verses 4 and 6 should dispose of that quick dismissal.

           

If one seeks an explicit avowal and endorsement of a Bimillennial concept, one seemingly must go all the way back to the 1700s.  Although one should never be ashamed of embracing a new view—provided it be rooted in sound exegesis—it is always reassuring to discover someone of prominence who has at least been inclined in a similar direction even if major differences still exist.

           

Hence it was with considerable pleasure that I discovered that the great German scholar John Albert Bengel and the famous founder of Methodism John Wesley both embraced a form of this theory in the eighteenth century.  Bengel summed up his approach in these words:[4]    

[Page 108]

A thousand years—Two millennial periods are mentioned in this whole passage three times; the former is the millennium in which Satan is bound, verses 2, 3, 7; the other that of the reign of saints, verses 4, 5, 6.

 

            The translators make plain in their “Introduction” to Volume Two of the set of studies, that Bengel’s construction of the book of Revelation was so erroneous that they would have preferred to have omitted it entirely from their translation!  Their exorcism of much of the text is so drastic that all remaining quotations come from the completer Fausset-Fletcher translation cited below.

           

John Wesley relies so heavily on Bengel in the Explanatory Notes on The New Testament[5] that he comes close to plagiarism.  The paraphrase is so similar that a casual reading could lead to the unjust conclusion that the line had been crossed.  Wesley presents the same arguments defending a Satan Bound Millennium (verses 2-3, 7) and a Millennium of the Saints (verses 4-6) as does Bengel and, in at least one place, makes it easier to grasp the point of their shared argument

           

To set the stage for further consideration, let us consider the actual text describing the two millenniums as seen by Bengel and Wesley, with those verses presented in blue and bold print.  You will note that though we have made our case by contrasting verses 4 and 6, these commentators prefer to add verse 7 to the first millennium. 

 

[Page 109]         As the terminating event at the end of the first thousand years one can understand this being done.  On the other hand as the termination event, one can just as easily see it presenting what happens between the first and second thousand years.  The events that preceptitate the beginning of the second millennium, if you will, and not belonging to either.  Neither approach would seem to affect what we have already argued.

           

 

The Satan Bound Millenium

 

(2)  And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;  (3)  and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  (4) Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  (5)  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.  (6)  Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  (7)  When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.

 

[Page 110]

The Millennium of the Saints

 

 

(2)  And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;  (3)  and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  (4) Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  (5)  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.  (6)  Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  (7)  When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.

 

[Page 111]

Bengel argued that “Many (his emphasis, RW) admit, that the millennium in which Satan is bound is different from the millennium in which the saints shall reign. . . .”  As evidence he cites these authors (none of whom are scholars modern students are likely to be familiar with except in the vaguest of way):  Pareus (who “seems to hint at Brighman and Cotter” holding the same view) along with Jungman are cited in particular.  “To this are added all those who take the second millennium only for eternity itself, as Viegas . . . Nic. Collado, Cornelius a Lapide, and Nicholas Muller.”[6]     

 

            In their scenario, verses 1-3 and 7 are joined to make the First Millennium and verses 4-6 constitute the Second Millennium.  In our scenario verse 4 describes the first millennium and verses 5-6 the second.  Verses 1-2 reveal what initiated the first thousand years and verse 7 what ends it, allowing one to lump both with the first thousand years or placing verse 7 as initiating what leads to the second one.  Either way, we have the precipitating event of the resurrection separating the two distinct periods.

 

            A basic problem they have is the lack of a disrupting / disjunctive element in the text to distinguish their millennium of verses 1-3 from that of verses 4-6.  Our approach has one and theirs does not.

 

I suppose one could combine their approach with mine and come up with a trimillennial interpretation:

 

                        The Satan Bound Millennium (verses 1-3, 7)

                        The Millennium of the Martyrs (verse 4)

                        The Resurrection (verse 5)

                        The Millennium of Eternity (verse 6)

[Page 112]

            I do not believe the text requires this—indeed, at this point, the scenario begins to suffer from “overcomplexity” of a degree it is hard to believe was anticipated or intended.  It would, however, certainly be one way of merging together the clear-cut evidence we presented in chapter two with the view of Bengel and Wesley.

           

Having set the stage, now let us examine how they proceed to defend their double millennium scenario. 

 

Argument 1:  Since the Satan Bound Millennium and the Millennium of the Saints end at different times they can not be chronologically synonymous:  The Satan Bound Millennium ceases before the end of the world, while the Millennium of the Saints ceases at the end of the world.

 

            Bengel wrote:[7] 

 

The second millennium extends even to the resurrection of all the dead, verse 5; the former [millennium] comes to a close before the end of the world, verse 7, etc.  Therefore the beginning and end of the former is before the beginning and end of the second.

           

            His analysis works only by ignoring verse 6:

[Page 113]

(20:5)  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.  (20:6) Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

           

            A millennium does end at the resurrection in verse 5, but then we are immediately informed in the next verse that a new millennium begins at that point.  In other words the text asserts the beginning of the second millennium at the resurrection.  Indeed that millennium is not mentioned as ever coming to an end for it is equivalent to eternity.

           

A further problem:  The freeing of Satan is identified by John as being but for “a short time” (verse 3).  But in Bengel’s reasoning there follows a Millennium of the Saints that is supposed to be a thousand years long and lasts till the world ends rather than beginning at that point.  Hence Satan would, seemingly, be freed for that entire period of time.  

 

But a binding at the end of that period would not be after “a short time,” but after a long time, “a thousand years.”  A comparatively brief releasing before that second extended period begins fits the language far better.     

 

 

Argument 2:  The addition of “the” to the term “thousand years” implies a distinction into two millenniums.

[Page 114]

            Wesley presents this argument in a clearer fashion than Bengel:[8]

 

As in the second verse, at the first mention of the former, so in the fourth verse, at the first mention of the latter, it is only said a thousand years; in the other places, the thousand, verses 3, 5, 7, that is the thousand mentioned before. 

 

            The most that one has here is an argument for the existence of two millenniums.  It in no way requires that both of them occur before the end days of the cosmos.

           

The use of “a” and “the” fits normal usage and signifies nothing more:

 

Verse 2:  From the standpoint of it beginning (in the future), Satan is bound “a thousand years.”

Verse 4:  From the standpoint of it beginning (in the future), the saints rule “a thousand years.”

Verse 3:  From the standpoint of it ending/being completed, Satan is unloosed when “the thousand years were completed” for the specified time period has ended.

Verse 5:  From the standpoint of it ending/being completed, “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.”    

Verse 7:  From the standpoint of it ending/being completed, “when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.”

           

Isn’t this simply the way we normally use “a” and “the” in English, rather than it carrying some profound theological freight?

[Page 115]

            But, perhaps, I’m missing his point approaching it this way, in a too literalistic fashion and not paying adequate adding to his subtext.  What appears to be his implicit point is that the use of “a thousand years” requires that a new period of time NOT previously discussed is being introduced.

           

The problem here is a verse, he omits from his listing, verse 6:  “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”  In our analysis arguing that this is simply the way one would most naturally introduce the description of a time period not previously discussed—one beginning (in the future)—this example fits in perfectly.  But if “a thousand years” requires the introduction of a new time period, then don’t we have a third millennium?

           

Although it would be useful to have yet additional evidence in behalf of a two millennium concept being at the heart of John’s thinking in the early part of Revelation 20, it is hard to see how this particular line of reasoning does anything to contribute to it.

 

 

Argument 3:  Is this the means of reconcile differing Biblical descriptions of the end period of the world?

 

            Bengel presents the case in this manner:[9]

 

This distinction between the two periods of a thousand years affords a great advantage, and that too of such necessity, as to prove this very distinctness [Page 116]   of the millennial periods.  In the judgment of an illustrious man, a serious difficulty is raised by the hope of better times, or even by the reconciling of the millennial kingdom itself with the final perverseness and damnable security of men of the last times.  The keeping the times distinct alone remedies this difficulty.

 

During the course of the former millennium, the promise which describes [the] most flourishing times of the Church will be fulfilled:  Chapter 10:7; afterwards, while the saints who belong to the first resurrection shall reign with Christ, men on earth will be remiss and careless, Matthew 24:37, etc.; according to which explanation that remarkable passage, Luke 18:8, retains the natural meaning of the words.

 

Respecting this [false] security, which will seize men, when the enemies are now removed, there is a valuable suggestion subjoined to the commentary of Patrick Forbes on the Apocalypse.  The confounding of the two millennial periods has long ago produced many errors, and has made the name of Chiliasm hateful and suspected; the distinction between the two resolves the difficulties to which Chiliasm is justly liable, and aids in the sound interpretation of prophecy.     

 

            Wesley’s comments summarize the argument in fewer words and present it in a clearer fashion:[10]

 

By observing these two distinct thousand years, many difficulties are avoided.  There is room enough for the fulfilling of all the prophecies, and [Page 117]   those which before seemed to clash are reconciled; particularly those which speak on the one hand, of a most flourishing state of the Church as yet to come; and on the other, of the fatal security of men in the last days of the world.

 

            The present author finds it hard to grasp where there is even a hypothetical problem:  the unbeliever has a false happiness and false security in his delusion while the believer possesses a true happiness and true security through genuine discipleship to the Lord.  Both types of people abound in our age and if it should turn out that the ultimate end is yet far future, there is no inherent reason why both truth and falsehood should not continue to prosper simultaneously. 

 

Charles Dickens rightly recognized that both great evil and great good can—strangely enough—exist at the same time when he began the Tale of Two Cities with the words:

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .

 

Charles Dickens is not scripture.  But he does hit on a reality that should not be forgotten.

 

[Page 118]         Yes, there are times when one predominates to the seeming eclipse of the other, but never to its utter destruction.  But the world premillennial theorists assume is to come is far too often produced by the vast exaggeration of the original intent of the passages they introduce.  They assume that the dreams, hopes, fears, and torments that they gloss onto those texts must occur because what the texts prophesy will occur—in much the same manner that first century Jewish religious leaders assumed that their glosses were valid because they were “based” on the text and the text is always right.     

 

            We conclude as we did with the preceding section, that this approach does not provide evidence for the two millennium interpretation.

 

 

The Date of the Two Millenniums

Beginning in Bengel-Wesley Thought

 

 

            What we have examined has heavily stressed the arguments the two men embraced.  Before we end our discussion, we do need to spend a little time on the historical date these events were to occur.  In the Bimillennialism I have presented chronological dates are, essentially, irrelevant:  the first millennium continues until Jesus returns whether that is tomorrow or 500 years from now.  It removes the bane of “end times speculation” by taking the dates out of it.

 

            The approach as advocated by Bengel, however, was one that (he thought) enabled him to give a specific time dating to the second millennium beginning:  1836.  We should stress that this should not be confused with the Millerite movement which saw Jesus returning in 1844.  To them it would be a quite visible affair that was to happen.

 

[Page 119]         As Wesley put it, what he (and Bengel) believed was to occur would take place “in the invisible world,” i.e., heaven rather than earth.[11]  Whatever he may or may not have felt about 1836 at the time he wrote his commentary, as time passed by he unquestionably distanced himself from any specific dating.  A critic chastised him for allegedly setting a date for Jesus’ return in a sermon, and Wesley firmly responded:[12]

 

My dear brother, I said nothing—less or more—in Bradford Church concerning the end of the world, neither concerning my own opinion.  What I said was that Bengel had given it as his opinion, not that the world would end, but that the millennial reign of Christ would begin in the year 1836.  I have no opinion at all upon that topic.  I can determine nothing about it.  These calculations are far above, out of my sight.  I have only one thing to do, to save my own soul and those that hear me.

 

 

 



Notes:  Chapter 2

 

[1] J. M. Ford.  The Anchor Bible:  Revelation.  Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975.  Page 353.

 

[2] Sanhedrin (Chapters VIII-XI), edited by H. Freedman.  London:  Soncino Press, 1935.  Pages 668-670.

 

 

[Page 120]

Notes:  Chapter 3

 

[3] Leon Morris.  The Revelation of Saint John:  An Introduction and Commentary.  London:  Tyndale Press, 1969.  Page 238.

 

[4] John A. Bengel.  Gnomon of the New Testament.  “A New Translation” by Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent.  Philadelphia:  Perkinpine & Higgins / New York:  Sheldon & Company.  Copyright 1860; 1864 printing.  Page 2:921.

 

[5]  John Wesley.  Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.  16th edition.  New York:  Carlton & Lanaham, no date.  All Wesley quotes from this source.

 

[6] John A. Bengel.  Gnomon of the New Testament.  Originally translated by William Fletcher; “revised and edited by Rev. Andrew Faussett.”  Second Edition.  Edinbugh:  T. & T. Clarke, MDCCCLIX.  Page 369.

 

[7] Ibid.  Page 368.

 

[8] Wesley.  Notes.  Page 724.

 

[9] Bengel, Gnonon (Fletcher translation).  Page 369.

 

[10] Wesley.  Notes.  Page 724.

 

[11] William M. Greathouse.  “John Wesley’s View of the Last Things.”  In The Second Coming:  A Wesleyan Approach to the Doctrine of Last Things, edited by Ray Dunning, 139-160.  Kansas City, Missouri:  Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1995.  Pages 148-149; the quoted words are from Wesley on Revelation 20:5, page 149.

 

[12] Ibid., page 141, quoting from The Works of John Wesley, 3rd edition, 14 volumes (1872 reprint), 12:319.