I think this will be my last eschatology post in regard to listing things that have no clear answer or closure. I’ll do one more where I sketch out my basic thoughts on eschatology (I can’t use the word positions, since I don’t care about the subject very much).
For this post, here’s the “not self evident question”: Is the book of Revelation to be read from start to finish as a chronology of the end times — read as a linear chronology — OR, do major sections of the book “reiterate” each other in a cyclical way (referred to as “reiteration” or “recapitulation”)?
A sub-question to the above is: Why would it matter?
As far as the first question, this one is hard to illustrate. The least complicated explanation to which I have access comes from the College Press NIV Revelation Commentary (the boldfacing us mine):
Notice that the vision contains two main elements: First, there is a revelation of the presenta revelation of what is now. The present, of course, refers to what is now from Johns perspective. Christ offers John a vision of the late first century a.d. in Asia. Second, the Lord promises a revelation of the futurea vision of what will take place later. Again, this is the future from Johns point of viewthe period from a.d. 9596 through Christs return and the consummation of the kingdom of God. Which part of the book reveals Johns present and which part reveals the future? John treats these two subjects in the order in which they are mentioned. His discussion of the present appears in 2:13:22 and takes the form of seven letters to the churches of Asia. This part of the vision describes the present circumstances of the Asian churches from Christs point of view.
The Lords revelation of the future appears in 4:122:6, as the structure of the passage makes clear. The first verse of this section (4:1) reads: After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this. The initial phrase After this, in and of itself, marks a transitionthe end of one discussion and the beginning of another. Christ then introduces the next major portion of the book when he says, I will show you what must take place after thisthat is, after the present described in chapters 2 and 3. Revelation 4:1 marks the beginning of the promised vision of what will take place later. Where does the vision of the future end? After a long series of images we come to Revelation 22:6: The angel said to me, These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place. This verse marks the end of Johns discussion of the future. The remainder of the book (22:721) consists of a short Epilogue.
By far the largest portion of Revelation describes Johns vision of the future (4:122:6). How has the author structured this important part of the book? The revelation of what will take place later begins with an introduction (4:15:14) in which John describes his new vantage point in heaven (Come up here, and I will show you). The prophet will see the future from Gods point of view. The rest of the section (6:122:6) contains the revelation of the future itself. However, a careful reading shows that John does not receive one long, sequential vision of the future. Instead, he receives three separate revelations of the complete future from Johns time through the consummation of the kingdom of God.
John describes how the future unfolds in 6:18:1. Then he starts over and describes the same period again in 8:211:19. Then he reviews the same period a third time in 12:122:6. The approach is cyclical, with each vision examining the future from a slightly different angle, and the third vision offering the most detail.
Christopher A. Davis, Revelation; The College Press NIV commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub., 2000), 76.
This selection (I think) explains the view of the author (and most commentators on Revelation), that the book’s “future sections” repeat one another.
The reason the issue is important can be illustrated from one portion of the repeated cycling. Put simply, if Revelation 19:11-21 is reiterated in Rev 20:1-10, then there is no millennial kingdom. What follows will appear bewildering, but just observe the structuring and the gaps then see my notes at the end. This will illustrate how an amillennialist uses the fairly obvious reiterative structure of Revelation 4-22 to argue against a literal 1000 year millennium. Stay with me.
A few observations are in order.
1. There are certifiable connections between the second and third sections.
2. The table on the right does *not* repeat the second coming just Armageddon and its aftermath.
3. The above means that as assumed equation between the period before the second coming is to be struck. The lefthand column has nothing but by implication the age before the second coming = the church age. That would mean, when bringing the right column into the picture, that the church age of the left corresponds to Rev 20:1-7, the description of the millennium. Therefore, church age = millennium talk of Rev 20. The church IS that kingdom age.
Now, at this point, if youre a premillennialist, youre thinking good grief this is contrived and self-serving. I understand. But did you notice I have Gog and Magog underlined? That reference is actually the key to the whole idea the justification for what looks like interpretive gymnastics.
But how? Very simple.
1. Ezekiel 38-39 describes the Gog and Magog battle.
2. In that description, there is a reference to the birds being summoned to devour the flesh of Yahwehs defeated foes (39:4, 17-18). (Followers of my divine council work will note the reference to the bulls of Bashan in v. 18 just notice it not going to comment on it here).
3. This birds devouring the flesh of the Day of Yahweh victims is the only such reference in the OT. As such, it must be what was in Johns mind when writing Revelation 19:17-19. Got it? Now heres the kicker
4. The fact that John explicitly references Gog and Magog in Rev 20:8 shows that JOHN intended Rev 20:8-10 to be a repetition of Rev 19:17-19.
5. If we agree with number 4, then the structural synchronism falls into place and the millennium = the church age.
Bear in mind that this is one of the more explosive reiteration sections. It is NOT the only such section that an amillennialist will note in defense of his/her position. There are others. What I want premillennialist readers to get is that they ought to stop saying the amillennial view is the result of spiritualizing the text. The amillennialist has very clear exegetical arguments. If one begins with Galatians 3, which clearly has believers (the Church) as the inheritors of the Abrahamic covenant promises, and then follows with this textual appeal to the precise wording of Ezekiel 38-39, they aint sucking it out of their thumbs. But that doesnt mean it isnt without weaknesses some serious ones at that.
So how do premillennialists escape this? Well, theres the ridiculous strategy of saying that Rev 20:8 reference to Gog and Magog must be a second Gog and Magog event, not the one in Ezekiel. Thanks for that invention please patent it. This is nothing more than simply adding an event to the Bible to make your system work. But prophecy experts do it all the time, even in print. If you favor this argument, you should stop reading this blog and look for the newest end times novel in your Christian bookstore and just go with that.
For a more intelligent strategy, see this critique of the amillennial position.
Again, my goal is to get you to see the thinking processes so you can avoid pretending anyones view is self-evident.