Premillennialism and Revelation 20:7-9

In the final chapter of his book A Case for Amillennialism, Kim Riddlebarger sets forth a number of problems he sees with the premillennial view. One of them concerns the deception of the nations in Revelation 20:7-9. According to Riddlebarger:

If premillenarians are correct about their reading of Revelation 20, Jesus rules upon the earth over people in resurrected and unresurrected bodies during the millennial age. Our Lord’s millennial rule will end with a massive satanic deception of the nations and a revolt against Christ and his church after they have reigned on the earth for a thousand years. If true, this millennial apostasy is tantamount to a second fall. Not even resurrected and glorified saints are safe from the future wrath of Satan and the unbelieving nations (p. 233).

Although it’s not exactly clear to me why Riddlebarger believes that a millennial apostasy would be tantamount some kind of “second fall,” the bigger question in my mind involves the threat of Satan’s wrath toward the saints. According to Riddlebarger, if the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 is true, then “not even resurrected and glorified saints are safe from the future wrath of Satan and the unbelieving nations.” This, I assume, is supposed to persuade people to reject the premillennial view because of how ridiculous it is to say that glorified believers could be in this kind of danger.

So what about this? Is Riddlebarger correct? Does the premillennial view of Revelation 20 require this idea that even resurrected and glorified saints will not be safe from the future wrath of Satan and the apostate nations? Frankly, it’s difficult for me to determine exactly how he even came up with this idea. As a premillennialist, I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying Revelation 20, and it has never even crossed my mind that the saints could be in this kind of danger. After all, these glorified believers will not be subject to either physical death (1 Cor 15:42-57) or spiritual death (Rev 20:6), and Jesus Himself will be right there with them! Furthermore, Revelation 20:7-10 describes exactly what will happen when Satan gathers the nations for battle against the saints:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:7-10).

So where exactly is this idea that glorified believers will not be safe from the future wrath of Satan and the unbelieving nations? Where is the possibility of an actual threat even entertained? It seems to me that this is yet another example of an attempt to discredit premillennialism by misrepresenting it.

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20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Massimo Mollica on May 21, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Matt,
    Regarding your statement about Riddlebarger where you said its not clear to you why he believes, “that a millennial apostasy would be tantamount some kind of “second fall,” the way I understood Riddlebarger was that he believes premillennialist think that only resurrected/glorified saints enter the millennium, thus the only people who could rebel would be those already glorified. So their rebellion is a kind of “second fall” from a perfect state. Once again though, Riddlebarger misrepresents premillennialism because premillennialism (at least dispensational premill) does not say only glorified/resurrected saints enter the millennium . . . there are also the non-glorified tribulation saints.

    Thanks for your post.
    Massimo

  2. Massimo: Back in 1994, Riddlebarger wrote an article for modern Reformation (“A Present or Future Millennium?”) in which he mispresented premillennialism in precisely the way you described. In that article, Riddlebarger wrote that “if premillennialism is correct, then it is glorified saints follow [sic] Satan and revolt against Christ!” Later in that same article Riddlebarger wrote that “the supposed apostasy of glorified believers in a future millennial age poses a very difficult problem for all forms of premillennialism.” When I first read that, I remember thinking that he is either purposely misrepresenting premillennialism, or else he is not simply not aware of what premillennialism actually teaches.

    Anyway, for some reason I had it in my mind that Riddlebarger had not repeated his earlier error in A Case for Amillennialism, thus my confusion about his “second fall” comment. But looking now at page 223 of that book, I see that I was wrong and that you are right: Riddlebarger still doesn’t seem to know where these unglorified saints come from in the premillennial view. He writes: “Are these people in unresurrected bodies? If so, where do they come from?”

    • Posted by Peter on May 27, 2009 at 12:29 pm

      Matt,

      Your comment above – I see that I was wrong and that you are right: Riddlebarger still doesn’t seem to know where these unglorified saints come from in the premillennial view. He writes: “Are these people in unresurrected bodies? If so, where do they come from?”

      I was hoping someone in this thread might explain where they DO come from, but no-one did (unless I missed the obvious). Can you explain? Thanks.

    • Posted by Peter on May 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm

      Sorry, looks like you did explain it below after all. My apologies.

  3. Posted by Scott Christensen on May 21, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    It seems that the misrepresentation of Premillennialism/ Dispensationalism by many in the Reforemed Covenantal camp is a widespread problem that will no go away anytime soon. It is a real blight upon their Christian integrity, especially after repeated attempts at correction.

  4. All,

    Please keep comments on topic, I have deleted two thus far. This is not the place to post a lengthy commentary about various views of Revelation.

    Thanks,
    Paul

  5. Posted by stuthewhite on May 22, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Interesting post.

    I’m an Australian Christian and am amazed at the cultural difference regarding all things millennial. This issue has absolutely no traction here: it has about as much heat as the ole “did Adam have a belly button?” question.

    Got any thoughts on why it’s so big over there?

  6. Posted by Danan Leab on May 22, 2009 at 10:58 am

    That settles it for me! I’m moving to Australia!

    Just out of curiosity, given a purpose statement of “…to provide encouragement, resources, and general discussion related to the preaching ministry,” why do many posts have to do with premillenialism?

  7. Why so many posts on premillennialism?

    Because I have a clause in my contract with Expository Thoughts which allows me to post on whatever’s been on my mind. I’m obviously kidding about the contract, but in many ways, it’s as simple as that. In other words, we don’t have some kind of underlying agenda to focus on one particular theological issue over any other. In fact, Paul and I would happy to see Rich Ryan and Chris Pixley post on absolutely anything!

    At the same time, to put the millennial issue in the category of Adam’s belly button seems to imply that much of what God has revealed to us in His Word is neither relevant nor worthy of our diligent study. This should be unthinkable for anyone who takes the Bible seriously, especially for the preacher.

    Back in 1995 I was a pan-millennialist who was trying to decide between The Master’s Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary. I had been happily attending a PCA church and was becoming more and more reformed in my theology, and yet I also appreciated the ministry of John MacArthur. In January of that year, I visited TMS and met with Dr. Trevor Craigen, one of the theology professors. I said to Dr. Craigen: “I’ve never studied eschatology, and I don’t really understand the difference between covenant theology and dispensationalism. But as a pastor some day, couldn’t I just forget about all this controversial stuff and just focus on the important issues like the doctrines of grace?” To which he responded very simply: “Not if you want to preach the whole counsel of God.” That day I made up mind that I was going to study hard and do what it took to become the kind of preacher who was able to faithfully proclaim all of Scripture, not just the parts that came easily to me.

  8. stuthewhite,

    “Got any thoughts on why it’s so big over there?”

    In addition to what Matt just pointed out I sympathize with those who are bothered by headline hunters, who seek to find a text to justify spurious interpretations. However this should not be confused with those who diligently desire to study the Word and understand what it means.

    Genesis 3:15 puts the eschatological question on the biblical map and God’s covenant with Abraham (and subsequent covenants) is such a resounding theme in Scripture that only the most biased interpreter could say it has nothing to do with eschatology.

    Then again maybe we’re just straining gnats here in the U.S. So how is the should homosexual women be bishops issue going in Australia? Got any thoughts on why it’s so big over there? Just pulling your leg mate.

    blessings,
    Paul

  9. Danan,

    You should know that Matt has written an excellent book on Revelation 20 so the likelihood of his talking about the subject here is very high. I’m just glad he didn’t write a book about circumcision although it might increase our traffic.

    See you Sunday,
    PSL

  10. Posted by Danan Leab on May 22, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think Kim Riddlebarger is unaware of the existence of “tribulation saints” in the dispensational premil. system. For example, he has stated, “…premillenniarians have to explain how it is that people make it through the return of Christ and yet remain in natural bodies. Jesus taught that his return marks the end of the age (Matthew 13:39) and that after his return, people no longer marry or are given in marriage (Luke 20:34-36).”

    So, I would simply observe that Kim does in fact know where such natural bodied people would come from, but he doesn’t see it as a biblical possibility.

  11. Danan,

    The problem with Riddlebarger’s critique is that it ignores the view of pre-tribulational premillennialists who affirm that the unbelieving nations will arise from the offspring of non-glorified believers who originally enter the millennial kingdom (see Massimo’s comment above). This possibility is not open to the post-tribulational premillennialist, because the post-tribber says that all the saints will be raptured/glorified at the very beginning of the millennial kingdom. But the pre-tribulationalist affirms that (a) the church will be raptured/glorified at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week, (b) the tribulation martyrs will resurrected at the end of Daniel’s 70th week (Rev 20:4), and (c) the tribulation converts who survive Daniel’s 70th week enter the millennial kingdom in nonglorified bodies.

    This view is set forth in the writings of many well-known dispensationalists (e.g., Robert Thomas, John Walvoord, Harold Hoehner, Paul Feinberg, and Charles Powell, to name a few), and it is addressed often in premillennial debates over the timing of the rapture (b/c of how the presence of nonglorified saints presents such a problem for the post-tribulationalist). So I can’t imagine how Riddlebarger would be unaware of this as an answer to his question of where these non-glorified people come from in the premillennial view. But as it stands, Riddlebarger presents only three options to the premillennialist: (1) deny that all unbelievers will be judged and destroyed at the Second Coming, (2) affirm that glorified saints can become apostate, or (3) deny premillennialism. If those are my only three options, I can see why amillennialism looks so attractive.

  12. Posted by Danan on May 22, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Understood that you completely disagree with his critique and the assumptions he’s made. I was just pointing out that he is indeed aware of the existence of tribulation saints in dispensational premil. theology, but assumes they can’t exist and so moves on to point out how absurd it would be to have apostate glorified saints. So, he is aware of it as an answer to the question of non-glorified people, but he rejects it for other reasons. Obviously, if one believes in tribulation saints, then one rejects Riddlebarger’s argument against their existence (Matt. 13 with Luke 20).

    I do think it would have been more persuasive if he first made a full case against the existence of non-glorified people in the millennium, rather than discounting their existence for reasons not stipulated to.

  13. Posted by Massimo Mollica on May 22, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Danan, as you said, Riddlebarger “assumes they can’t exist and so moves on to point out how absurd it would be to have apostate glorified saints.” I agree with you that he needs to prove this.

    I would add, he needs to do it from the entirety of Scripture. He needs to show why non-glorified people in the millennium cannot exist by tackling the premillennial proof texts head on (like Isaiah 65). Simply highlighting a couple verses from Matt 13 and Luke 20 in my mind is a suspect methodology when it comes at the expense of the OT text. He needs to harmonize his understanding of Matt 13 and Luke 20 with OT teaching on the age to come as well.

    So, because he has not conclusively proven that only glorified people exist after the second coming, he proceeds to refute a view that is not the dispensational premillennialism that he has problems with, thus betraying his claim to be so well acquainted with it. Thus, he refutes a straw man, which comes down quite easily.

  14. Posted by Rick on May 22, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    How absurd that the only comments you allow are those which agree with your position, but call those that disagree long commentaries.

    Rick

  15. Rick,

    No one has been deleted because they disagree, they have been deleted because they ramble on about things that are off topic.

    Paul

  16. Posted by stuthewhite on May 23, 2009 at 8:51 am

    So how is the should homosexual women be bishops issue going in Australia?
    :)
    ..I guess we all have our own beasts to tackle!

  17. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on May 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Peter,

    Good question. It was touched on above, but I can see how it might have gotten lost in all the back and forth. Simply stated, most post-trib premils believe that some unbelievers survive the judgment/battle at the end of Rev 19 and therfore enter the millennial kingdom in non-glorified bodies, and most pre-trib premils believe that some non-glorifed believers will enter the millennial kingdom in the way I described in an earlier comment:

    “But the pre-tribulationalist affirms that (a) the church will be raptured/glorified at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week, (b) the tribulation martyrs will resurrected at the end of Daniel’s 70th week (Rev 20:4), and (c) the tribulation converts who survive Daniel’s 70th week enter the millennial kingdom in nonglorified bodies.”

    Hope that helps.

  18. Posted by Jim M on January 5, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I’d say most people who are amil were premill’s of both kinds Dispin, and historic-premill. This is for the case with Kim R. The way some of these post read, you’d think all are born amil’s no way. I for one went from thinking dispins, was the only orthodox view of the endtimes. Then once becoming reformed in a sense, I looked and sided with Hist-premill. But the more I studied it, the more I also saw problems with all forms of pre-mill, although hist-premill is very close to the same understanding of the book of Rev, except the mill. Or at least that’s the way it looks to me.
    If I could use %’s I’d say I’m 55% leaning amil, and possibly 45% H. Premill. I’m not totally convinced of the amil view, but it seems to jive the best with the NT’s understanding of the 2nd coming of Christ.
    So, I’d say be easy with saying all amil’s don’t understand the pre-mill view, most if not all were pre-mill.
    Kim is very Irenic in his tone.
    I’d ask for you all to read more than Kim, there are many, many good amil books out there, who raise the same type problems with a 2nd coming and then some type of 1000 yr reign.
    The NT seems very clear on this, except possibly this V in Rev 20, in a book that uses numbers in type. Esepcially a number like 1000.
    From one who leans slightly for a amil understanding of Rev 20, and the 2nd coming of Christ.

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