Revelation 20 Made Too Simple

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 is 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, this is the primary reason I am a premillennialist. [Incidentally, as an experiment, try applying Waldron’s grammatical-historical method to Ezekiel 36 and see where it leads you.]


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.


This, of course, raises an obvious question: 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 doesn’t that make him guilty of violating the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation in precisely the same way that he accuses the premillennialist of doing with Revelation 20:1-10? Doesn’t his interpretation of Revelation 20:11-15 fail to exhibit a clear line of connection with the historical context of the Apocalypse, at least according to his own logic?


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. I fully realize that there are legitimate arguments that can be made against the premillennial view of Revelation 20, but this simply isn’t one of them.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Normally, I say I’m historic premill because Jesus was, but in all honesty a big part of it for me is that Revelation 19 precedes Revelation 20.

  2. Posted by Scott Christensen on September 9, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    You giant slayer you! All I want to know is are you a Jets fan now?

  3. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on September 10, 2008 at 11:49 am

    The Jets. Hmmmmm. That sounds familiar. Are they in the USFL?

  4. Thanks, Matt, for this post. I think it illustrates the problem amills have with prophecy. To be able to arrive at their position, they have to change their whole hermeneutic.

  5. One other interesting aspect of Sam’s hermeneutic is that of the christological, or perhaps the historic redemptive. Many in the Reformed camp will claim the grammatical-historical must be married with the christological when understanding the OT and how the NT fulfills it.

    Read for example this article from the brand spanking new “New Covenant Journal” website. The author basically says the grammatical-historical hermeneutic is not sufficient in itself to understand the OT, it must be filtered through the Christiological hermeneutic of the NT. Am I to take that comment, then, that the OT was a book of shadows and unclarity until Jesus came to explain it properly?

    Sam’s approach suggests the book of Revelation has to be understood in its historical context, but many in his camp (I realize Sam is Reformed Baptist, not NCT by the way, but their hermeneutics are similar), would seem to reject this approach when it comes to understanding the OT, particularly prophetic passages.

    Just a thought.

  6. Posted by Christian on October 19, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    I am a reformed baptist as well. However, I was schooled in the dis. pre-mil camp (Liberty University). I have had classes on grammatical-historical hermeneutics, as well as Bible classes in which grammatical-historical hermeneutics are applied.

    I was taught that, “We should not use the OT passage as the Apostles did.” I ask you, Why? My profs insisted that it was given to them by the Spirit to use those passages that way. I would suggest something else.

    The Bible does not tell how to interpret itself. Grammatical-historical interpretation is a method devised by men to come to the best understanding of a text. That does not make it wrong! After all, the Bible does not say, “This is the proper hermeneutics to approach the text…”
    However, the Christological hermeneutic (historic redemptive) is similar to what the apostles applied.

    If the Bible does not say which is the right method, grammatical-historical or historic redemptive, then what is our basis for choosing a method? How about, Biblical Example!

    Like I said, those “Grammatical-historical Scholars” have already decided that we can’t use the apostle’s hermeneutics. So, I would suggest that they miss much of the text for the sake of their hermeneutic ideas.
    I also have a pragmatic argument (whatever that is worth). I have never grown so much spiritually since coming to reformed theology. The grammatical-historical method does not help with that. It gives you a head knowledge, but not an experiential knowledge. Just a thought. I probably won’t check this, so you don’t have to tear me apart.;0) Just an insight from another brother in Christ. God bless you all in your discussion of the supremely important! All to the glory of Christ.

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