Warning: Don’t use this series of posts on the Millennium and Preterism as ammunition against the Preterist (or “Full Preterist”) eschatology. As I noted previously, Rev. 20:1-10 presents problems in almost every theology. We even define the main eschatological theories by these chapters (Pre-Millennial, A-Millennial, and Post-Millennial). Only Preterism does not have “Millennial” in its name! No, I write this series not to demean Preterism by any means, but ultimately to strengthen it.
In fact, I regard this series of posts as taking on the best. The only major chink in the Preterist’s armor is, in my opinion, their exegesis of these few verses. As I noted previously, they “discount” the millennium of these verses into a less than 40 year span of time between AD 30 and 67. In short (pun intended), they are mistaken as to the duration of the Millennium. In this post I hope to prove they are also mistaken as to the timing the Millennium as well.
Because Preterism (at least in is most current incarnation) places the Millennium prior to AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem, they must accordingly put the events of Revelation 20 before the events of Revelation 18 and 19, which they say describe the destruction of that same city. Accordingly, in this view, Revelation Chapter 20 has to be a recapitulation rather than a continuation of the events in the previous chapters. Indeed, Preterist Tracy D. VanWyngaarden states baldly in one sentence all the assertions about Preterism and the Millenium that I have made thus far:
[O]ne cannot escape the conclusion that “the thousand years” began in connection with the one and only “binding” of Satan, which occurred in connection with Christ’s first advent. Since Jesus clearly bound Satan prior to A.D. 70 (Matt. 12:31; Heb. 2:14), and John relates the beginning of the “thousand years” at that time, (Rev. 20:2). it only follows that Johns millennium episode is a recapitulation. John was looking back to the “things which you have seen” (or, past things). The “thousand year” binding of Satan was therefore among the “things which are” (the “thousand years“ being virtually identical with the Last Days)..(Emphasis added)
In other words, the images of Rev. 20:1-10 are not progressive, but a recapitulation. There were not three end-time battles, but one; the battle of Gog and Magog is the same battle described elsewhere in Revelation under different symbols.
Sam Frost, one of the best exegetical Preterists, also posits that Revelation 20 recapitulates rather than progresses past the previous chapters. In his short Essay on the Millennium of Revelation 20, he concludes:
I have taken the position from William Hendriksen that Revelation 19:11-ff occurs at the end of the Millennium, and is parallel with Revelation 20:7-ff concerning Gog and Magog. The episode of Revelation 20:1-7 does not come after the events of Revelation 19:11-ff. Further, I have taken from other commentators (Gentry and David Chilton included) that Revelation 19 was fulfilled in the apocalyptic events of 70 AD. Therefore, the end of Millennial scheme refers to the Great Tribulation period of 66-70 AD. This places the “1000 years” between the advent of Christ’s birth, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, session, and finally, his fullness in the Parousia (that “God is all in all”). (bold text added for emphasis, italics in original)
Therefore, for the premier Preterists, the 1000 year Millennium, even as a symbol, is reduced to 36-37 years. It is also assumed to have been initiated at Christ’s first advent and to have ended before the invasion of Jerusalem, even though the destruction is assumed by these same Preterists to be the subject of Chapter 19 and prior. Although Frost makes a pretty good case in showing the parallels of the events (readers are strongly recommended to check out his essay), he does not make the case that internally there is an indicator within the test that this recapitulation is occurring. Indeed, with a general reading it is difficult to read Chapter 20 as anything but a sequential progression from Chapter 19.
Other Preterists do see this discrepancy. For example, in the Questions and Comments section at Preterist.org, the following answer is found regarding the question: “Is there no millennium? Never was, never will be?” This answer was written, I assume, by Ed Stevens—also no small name in the Preterist camp.
I hope Max King’s suggestion (that the millennium was the period from 30 to 70 AD) is the correct one (it certainly sounds good). The term “thousand years” would then simply refer to the period of time while the kingdom was being built, before God came to judge His enemies. It was a time of completion. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that no man knew the day or the hour. All they could know was that it was getting close, by the signs He told them to watch for. But, I have a hard time totally accepting this theory of the millennium, since the millennium seems to fit in sequentially/chronologically after the events of Rev. 19 (which are manifestly 70 AD events). Some try to insert a “flash-back” or “recapitulation” early in Rev. 20 to get around this problem. But, I find that difficult to accept since Rev. 20:3, 4, 10 mention events that supposedly happened before the millennium started, but which are the kinds of things that were happening during the period 30-70 AD when the millennium was supposedly in progress. If these events WERE 30-70 AD events and DID happen before the millennium started, then it would seem shaky to place the millennium in the period from 30-70 AD.
Stevens notes that Revelation 20 indeed references many events that were mentioned in previous chapters of the book. For instance, Revelation 20 mentions the mark of the beast, the souls of those beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus, and the beast and false prophet being in the lake of fire. However, Revelation 20 treats these events in the past tense whereas the previous chapters regard them as occurring in the present tense. This indicates a sequential relationship rather than one of parallel or recapitulation as the majority Preterist position heralds.
One of the first matters to attend to in understanding the millennium is the question of how it fits in sequentially in relation to the rest of Revelation. Is the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1 a continuation of the events of Revelation 19 (the AD 70 fall of Babylon and the Second Coming) or is there a recapitulation (a going back and restating events that happened earlier)? Some say that there is a recapitulation here, that Revelation 20 is going back to the time of Pentecost (c. AD 30) or even the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (c. AD 26). My position is that Revelation 20 is a continuation of the (AD 70) events of Revelation 19, not a recapitulation to the time around AD 30….
Notice the sequence in Revelation19-20. The individual beast and false prophet (the one who made people take the mark of the beast Rev. 13:11-18) are captured at the Second Coming in chapter 19 and put in the lake of fire. Satan is then taken and thrown in the abyss as the kingdom is established in chapter 20. Those who had lost their lives for not taking the mark of the beast (cf. Rev. 19:20; 13:15-16) are then resurrected in Revelation 20:4 at the beginning of the millennium. God was letting His first century audience know that the one who was faithful to Him to the point of death (cf. Rev. 2:10-11) would still get to participate in the soon coming millennial reign (Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21).
Notice the reference to the mark of the beast as a past event in both chapter 19 and 20. Revelation 20 is a continuation of the AD 70 narrative of the Second Coming not a recapitulation to AD 30.
So in summary, though some of the parallels are striking (Sam Frost almost convinces me), the best reading of Revelation 20 appears to me—at least at the present time—to be describing the state of the world after the destruction of the Temple and the Old Covenant system and not before it. However, this assertion then leaves open the nature of the Millennium and its relationship to the chapters after Rev. 20.
To that subject I will return in a subsequent post. Stay tuned.