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Literalism and Revelation 20

As we saw in the last article, amillennialism does not take the thousand years of Rev. 20 literally, but understands it as a symbolic reference to the complete New Testament age. The symbolism is found in the fact that 1000 is 10 X 10 X 10, where 10 is understood to represent completeness. It is this non-literal understanding of the thousand years literally that we wish to defend in this article.

We have already pointed out from Ps. 50:10, that a "thousand" is not always to be taken literally in Scripture. God does not only own the cattle on a thousand hills, but on all of them. Other passages in the Psalms where a "thousand" is not literal, but has the meaning "all" or "the whole" are Ps. 84:10; 91:7; and 105:8. Those who say, therefore, that the number must always be taken literally, also in Rev. 20, are wrong.

We would point out, too, that there are other things in Rev. 20 that cannot be taken literally. Satan is not literally a dragon, nor can a spirit, Satan, be bound with a chain (cf. Lk. 24:39). Most, too, would understand the reference to the "pit" to be a reference to Hell, Satan's place. And, further on in the chapter, Antichrist is not in the literal sense a "beast" (vs. 10), nor the book of life a literal book of paper and printed pages.

There are also numerous examples of things that cannot be taken literally in the book of Revelation itself. No Christian I know, for example, expects that his reward will actually be a white stone with his name written on it (Rev. 2:17) or that he will be turned into a pillar in heaven (3:12), or that Jesus actually has a sword for a tongue (1:16).

It is striking that those who insist most loudly on a literal understanding of the thousand years, and say that anything else is unfaithfulness to Scripture are themselves unwilling to take literally the reference to souls in Rev. 20:4. They insist that these are not literal disembodied souls, but "whole persons."

We would remind our readers that Scripture itself does not demand a strict and rigorous literalism, and, indeed, tells us that "spiritualizing" is necessary for the interpretation of Scripture (I Cor. 2:14). There are many examples of such spiritualizing in Scripture, Galatians 4:21-31 being one notable example.

The proper way of interpreting Scripture is not a rigid and impossible literalism, but that Scripture interprets itself. It does this in Rev. 20 by showing us (1) that "a thousand" may sometimes be understood symbolically; (2) by showing us in Matt. 12:29 exactly when the binding of Satan took place; and (3) by showing us that the thousand years ends with the end of the world (Rev. 20:8-15). The only possible conclusion, therefore, on the basis of Scripture itself, is that the thousand years refers to the whole NT age.

Does all this matter? Indeed it does. If there is still a thousand year age to follow the end of this present age, then the heavenly hope of believers and the final judgment become so remote, that the calling to watch and to pray and to prepare for the judgment are all but meaningless. The urgency of our calling to wait and look for the end of all things rest on our assurance that these things are coming quickly!

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 8
  • Issue: 2
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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