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Progression Versus Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-6: Some Overlooked Arguments

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Editorial Preface: This essay was delivered at the 50th annual Evangelical Theological Society conference, held in Danvers, MA in November 1999.


In recent years several writers have argued for a preconsummationist perspective1 of Rev 20:1-10, and, for the most part, have adopted a recapitulation approach.2 The preconsummationist/recapitulational/ amillennial view has the following elements: (1) The binding of Satan represents the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness accomplished at the cross. (2) The 1,000 years is symbolic of a long, indeterminate period, corresponding to the age of the church (now). (3) Satan will be loosed briefly to wreak havoc and to persecute the church in the end of the present age. (4) The fire coming from heaven and consuming the wicked is symbolic of Christ’s Second Coming. (5) A general resurrection and judgment of the evil and the good will occur at Christ’s coming, followed by the creation of new heavens and a new earth.3

The postconsummationist/progressive/premillennial viewpoint4 argues: (1) The binding of Satan is yet future. It will take place when Christ returns. (2) The 1,000 years is a literal period during which Christ will reign on earth from Jerusalem, with His people. (3) The loosing of Satan will bring the Millennium to its climax, followed by the resurrection and judgment of the wicked at the Great White Throne. (4) The new heavens and new earth will be created after the Millennium, i.e., 1,000 years after Christ’s Second Coming.5

Premillennialists have argued for this view with the following arguments: (1) It maintains a consistent, literal hermeneutic that allows Israel and the church to fulfill their respective promises. Thus, a literal reading of Rev 19:11–20:10 supports a premillennial view.6 (2) Revelation 20:1-10 contains the fourth and fifth scenes of the seventh bowl judgment (16:17), which is the last of the seven plagues.7 (3) The binding of Satan is absolute, a state which is unknown in history.8 (4) The relation of Satan’s consignment to the lake of fire after the 1000 years (20:7-10) and that of the beast and the false prophet before the 1000 years require a future Millennium.9 (5) The two occurrences of ἔζησαν in 20:4-5 argue for a future Millennium.10

On the other hand, those who hold to a preconsummationist/recapitulation view argue as follows: (1) No other passage of Scripture mentions a 1000-year period. (2) A symbolic interpretation is consistent with the apocalyptic nature of the text. (3) The historic creeds of the church do not mention an intermediate Messianic kingdom between this age and the eternal kingdom.11 Robert Strimple has argued that the NT does not only not teach a future millennial kingdom, it rules out an earthly millennial kingdom following Christ’s return. He defends this assertion by arguing that the NT reveals the following end-time events as concurrent: the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection and rapture of believers, the resurrection of the unjust, judgment for all, the end, the new heaven and new earth, and the inauguration of the final kingdom of God, the eternal state of the redeemed.12 Partially, this is an issue of philosophy of language: there is not necessarily any correspondence between language and reality. What this means is that language, in and of itself, does not tell us anything either about reality or even a writer’s viewpoint of reality. It only records the writer’s presentation of reality.13 Strimple is correct in asserting that in many places the NT portrays the above mentioned events as concurrent, or at least events that rapidly succeed one another. However, Revelation literarily portrays several events as separated by 1000 years. Secondly, when so many events are associated with the return of Christ, why is it difficult to believe that an intermediate earthly 1000-year kingdom can be part of this complex, especially since an eternal one is associated with it? Thirdly, several OT passages associate certain time periods with the end. Ezekiel 39:9, 11 speaks about burning the weapons of Gog and Magog for seven years after the end-time battle, and of burying the dead for seven months. What is the point of such activities if the new heaven and new earth and the eternal state immediately follow the return of Christ and the conclusion of this battle? Daniel 12:11-12 mentions 1290 days and 1335 days associated with the end. These days certainly overlap with the 1260 days of Rev 12:6, but what is the significance of the extension. One may argue that the numbers are symbolic, but the units of time still keep their temporal significance. Even if the actual time is debatable because of the symbolic significance of the numbers, very few would argue that the actual duration of time is less than the literal referents of the numbers associated with the temporal units of measurement.14 Thus, at least seven years would occur between the coming of Christ and the new heaven and earth.

In addition to the above arguments for a preconsummationist perspective, R. Fowler White has advanced three specific arguments favoring recapitulation (1) the discrepancy between the events depicted in Rev 19:11-21 and Rev 20:1-3; (2) the recapitulation of Rev 19:11-21 in Rev 20:7-10; and (3) the motif of angelic ascent and descent in Revelation.15 Of these arguments, the strongest one by far is the similarities between Rev 19:11-21 and Rev 20:7-10. However, if the case for recapitulation fails in 20:1-6, then 20:7-10 cannot recapitulate 19:11-21. It is this failure which I intend to address. There are three arguments that have been either been insufficiently treated or have been overlooked. These are (1) the imprisonment of Satan as compared to imprisonment and binding language used elsewhere in Revelation and the NT; (2) the reign of the saints in Rev 20:4-6 as compared to the saints reign mentioned elsewhere in Revelation; (2) the significance of the accusative for extent of time of χίλια ἔτη.16

The Imprisonment of Satan in Rev 20:1-3

Preconsummationists have typically argued that the binding and imprisonment of Satan is not absolute, but only restrains him in preventing “all people” throughout the earth from being drawn to Jesus (John 12:31-32).17 For the most part, the argument for such a limited interpretation of the imprisonment imagery is that the context contains a purpose statement (ἵνα μὴ πλανήσῃ ἔτι τὰ ἔθνη ἄχρι τελεσθῇ τὰ χίλια ἔτη; so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed). Beale argues, “Therefore, the context, and not the metaphor itself, must determine what degree of restriction is intended.”18 While this is true per se, a purpose statement can only state why an action of imprisonment is taken, not the degree of restriction intended. For example, if a warden says that he is putting a prisoner in solitary confinement, in order that he will no longer kill any more prisoners, this does not mean the prisoner is free to steal and do other such activities. The purpose statement does not determine the degree of restriction at all; it is determined by the language used for the restriction. Before we examine the details of Satan’s imprisonment, it is helpful to examine binding and imprisonment imagery elsewhere in Revelation and the NT.

There are two other examples of imprisonment and binding imagery used in Revelation, both in chapter nine.19 The first example is associated with the fifth trumpet. In this vision, an angel (ἀστέρα ἐκ τοὺς οὐρανούς) releases demonic locusts who are imprisoned in the pit of the abyss (τὸ φρέαρ τῆς ἀβύσσου). The abyss is closely associated with the realm of the dead (cf. Rom 10:17).20 However, it seems mostly related to Satan and his allies (cf. Luke 8:31; Rev 9:1; 11:7; 17:8). It is also a place that is undesirable to the demonic legions. The Legion of Luke 8:27-33 pleads with Jesus not to send them to the abyss. The demons of Rev 9:1-11 are confined there, as well as Satan in 20:1-3. If the abyss is part of the realm of the dead, then those who dwell in it do not have access to the realm of living humanity. The use of confinement language reinforces this understanding. The demonic locusts inflict harm upon unbelieving humanity upon their release.21 This suggests that the demonic locusts confined to the abyss have had no contact with the realm of the living from the point of their imprisonment to the point of their release.

The second instance of binding and imprisonment imagery in Revelation is in 9:14-15, where four angels that are bound at the Euphrates are released. The purpose of these angels is to kill a third of mankind. It could be argued that they are only restrained from killing mankind before their time, but the way the sentence is constructed suggests that this is their sole function and have been bound so that they would not execute this function before their time.22 Thus, the binding seems absolute.

There are four (possibly five) other references to the binding of Satan or imprisonment of demons. The first is in Matt 12:29 (Mark 3:27).23 The reference is in the context of the Beelzebul controversy, where Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus argues that if Satan was to do such a thing, his kingdom would fall and his power would be broken. He then uses the illustration of a strong man, who is bound by a stronger man, who then plunders the strong man’s house. Many preconsummationists appeal to this parable to argue that Satan’s binding in Rev 20:1-3 is not absolute.24 The binding of Satan does not restrict all of Satan’s activities, but simply demonstrates that Jesus is sovereign over him and his demonic forces. However, the binding imagery used is in a parable about a thief plundering a house. The binding is neither meant to be completely restrictive, nor permanent. In this case, the context does limit the extent of the binding, but not through the use of a purpose statement. Instead the activity of Jesus is clearly revealed, and the consequences for Satan are delineated. The parallel in Luke 11:22 demonstrates that the binding is not an image of imprisonment, but of conquest. The details in Rev 20:1-3 are quite different. It is part of a visionary sequence in which the imprisonment of Satan has an impact on the other elements of the sequence. In Rev 20:1-3 an angel imprisons Satan and he is prevented from deceiving the world. In Matt 12:29 and the parallels, Christ himself binds Satan, and Satan is helpless from keeping Christ from exercising His authority over the demons. The two passages have more differences than they do similarities.

The other two examples are also parallel passages: 2 Pet 2:4 and Jude 6.25 Both passages speak of fallen angels who sinned. In 2 Pet 2:4, the angels are committed to Tartaras and kept in chains26 for judgment (σειραῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους). Jude 6 describes the angels as kept in eternal bonds under darkness for judgment (εἰς κρίσιν μεγάλης ἡμέρας δεσμοῖς ἀϊδίοις ὑπὸ ζόφον τετήρηκεν). Both passages may be related to 1 Enoch 10:4-14; 18:11-16; 19:1; 21:7-10; 54:1-6; 88:1-3; 90:23-26; Jub. 5:6-14 in which fallen angels are described as bound and imprisoned. Some argue that the imprisoned angels refer to all rebellious angels who live in spiritual darkness and are chained to their sentence of divine judgment.27 However, this waters down the imagery and ignores the parallels in the Pseudepigrapha. The fact that Rev 9:1-21 describes two different groups of imprisoned angels also suggests that the entire demonic realm is not imprisoned. The imagery of 2 Pet 2:4 and Jude 6 is similar to that of Rev 9:1-3. It may be that the demons that are released at the sounding of the fifth trumpet are those that are imprisoned in 2 Pet 2:4 and Jude 6. Whatever the case, the imprisonment imagery appears to be absolute.28

Having examined the other references in the NT to the binding and imprisonment of Satan and his demons, Rev 20:1-3 needs to be considered. Here Satan is bound with a great chain (ἅλυσιν μεγάλη), cast into the abyss, the abyss is then shut, locked,29 and sealed (ἔβαλεν αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν ἄβυσσον καὶ ἔκλεισεν καὶ ἐσφράγισεν ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ). This is the most extensive description of imprisonment anywhere in the NT. If the other references to the imprisonment imagery refer to absolute confinement, then this passage must also. There seems to be no other reason for the extensiveness of the imagery. John went to great lengths to make clear that Satan is to be cut off from the realm of humanity for 1000 years. In all the above cases where imprisonment, and not simply conquest, are involved, the imagery should be taken in a straightforward manner and is comparable to the effects of imprisonment in the human world in AD first century. Humans who are imprisoned, especially those in solitary confinement, have little or no contact with the outside world. Satan also will have no contact with the world outside of the abyss when he is imprisoned.30

Before leaving this issue, there are a few other matters that need to be addressed that make the recapitulation view of Rev 20:1-3 unlikely. These are: (1) the supposed parallelism between 20:1-3, 9:1-11, and 12:7-11, (2) the nature of the deception in 20:3, and (3) the referent to τὰ ἔθνη in 20:3. The similarities and differences of these three passages are depicted in the following table:

Rev 9:1-11

Rev 12:7-11

Rev 20:1-3

heavenly scene (7)

heavenly scene (1)

angelic battle against Satan and his host (7-8)

presupposed angelic battle with Satan (2)

A star falls from heaven to earth (1)

Satan cast to earth (9)

Satan cast into the abyss (3)

The star is given the key to the abyss (2)

The angel holds the key of the abyss (1)

The star opens the abyss and releases the demons (2-10)

Satan is shut and sealed in the abyss for 1000 years

The king over the demons is the angel of the abyss, Abbadon/Apollyon (11)

the angel’s evil opponent called “the great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (9)

the angel’s evil opponent called “the great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, restrained from deceiving the nations any longer (2-3)

Satan’s expression of “great wrath because he knows he has only a short time” (12b)

Satan to be “released for a short time” after his imprisonment (3)

Beale argues that these three visions depict the same or synchronous events that mutually interpret one another.31 While the similarities are noted, it is the differences that stand out. In 9:1-11, a fallen angel, presumably Satan,32 opens the abyss and releases the demonic forces. In Rev 20:1-3, the key is removed from Satan and given to a good angel, who then casts Satan into the abyss and uses the key to shut him in for 1000 years. While there may be some flexibility in apocalyptic imagery, two visions cannot contradict one another. The two visions cannot be synchronous because Satan cannot be using the key to open the abyss to release demonic forces, and at the same time, he is being cast into the abyss and locked in it for 1000 years. To interpret the visions as synchronous events does tremendous violence not only to the imagery being used, but also to the plot and story of Revelation itself. Thus, it seems that Satan is enclosed in the abyss at some time after he has released the demons because Rev 20:1-3 depicts him as being deprived of the key he once possessed in the plot sequence.

The parallels between 12:7-11 and 20:1-3 are perhaps more striking, but the differences are just as significant. The first difference involves the origin and destination of the casting of Satan. In 12:7-11, Satan is cast from heaven to the earth, and a place for Satan in heaven is no longer found (τόπος εὑρέθη αὐτῶν ἔτι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ. καὶ ἐβλήθη ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας). Heaven rejoices over this act because Satan who is the accuser of the brethren is thrown down. This suggests that Satan no longer has access to heaven.33 His activity is confined to the earth. However, in 20:1-3, Satan is cast from earth, presumably, into the abyss, which is then shut and sealed. Both the imagery of being cast from one sphere to another and the imprisonment imagery strengthens the conclusion that Satan has no access to earth, the realm of humanity, and therefore, his confinement is absolute.34

The second difference is that the expulsion of Satan from heaven has different results than the casting of Satan into the abyss. The former event results in increased persecution for believers and deception for unbelievers. Satan’s confinement in  the abyss prevents Satan’s deception of the nations, and presumably, lessens the persecution of the church.35

The third difference is the difference of times involved. In 12:12, the dragon has only a “short time” (ὀλίγον καιρὸν), which is apparently the “three and a half years” or equivalent period (11:2-3; 12:6, 14). However, in 20:3 Satan is imprisoned for 1000 years and then is to be released for a short time (ἄχρι τελεσθῇ τὰ χίλια ἔτη. μετὰ ταῦτα δεῖ λυθῆναι αὐτὸν μικρὸν χρόνον). Beale argues that there is a temporal overlap between the “short time” of 12:12 and the “short time” of 20:3.36 The latter period occurs at the very end of the former period. The 1000 years are equal to the church age and the three and a half years are equal to the church age plus the “short time” of 20:3. The 1000 years are figurative for a long era and the ultimate victory of the saints.37 However, this would mean that the “short time” of three and a half years is longer than the “long era” of 1000 years. This overly symbolic approach is to strip the units and designations of time of all temporal significance. No measurement of time has any temporal significance, and even their symbolic meaning is relative. This leads only to confusion, and suggests that God had no intention of revealing his calendar and timetable. But the frequent use of temporal units suggests otherwise. It is exegetically inconsistent to relativize the different temporal periods to such a degree. Whatever the merits are of literal versus symbolic interpretation of numbers and periods of time, the designation for a brief period of time (three and a half years) should certainly not exceed the designation for a long period of time (1000 years). 38

The nature of deception and the referent of τὰ ἔθνη in 20:3 are two issues that need to be discussed together. Beale follows R. Fowler White in arguing that τὰ ἔθνη most likely refers to the unbelieving of the nations, since that is the referent in 19:15 and 20:8.39 This is then used to argue that the visions of 19:11-21 and 20:1-3 do not logically cohere, if they are taken progressively. Since the nations have been destroyed in 19:21, it makes no sense to speak of protecting them from deception in 20:1-3. However, this looks at the situation a bit too ingressively. True, the nations are destroyed in 19:21, but that does not mean that they cannot be later reconstituted under the Messianic King (Isa 2:4; 11:10-16; Zech 14:16-21). There will be at least believing survivors among the nations; they and their descendants will make up the reconstituted nations.40 The protection from the nations from Satan’s deception is viewed as a whole, not at just the beginning of the 1000-year period. With this in view, it is best to see τὰ ἔθνη as entities in and of themselves, and not in terms of unbelievers versus believers. Indeed, it was the unbelievers that were victims of Satan’s  deception in 16:1-16 and 19:20, and will be in 20:7-10, but this has an effect on the nations as a whole. It is this effect that the nations are protected from during the Millennium.

As to the deception itself, it is a bit unclear how the preconsummationists exactly view it. Beale refers to this deception several times, but never in quite the same way. Note the following statements.

It is suggested that the “most reasonable antecedent for ἔτι… would be the deceptive action of Satan through or in conjunction with the deceptive ministry of the beast and false prophet (19:20).” This is possible, but, even if it is correct, the deceptive activity of the devil through his agents could refer to an earlier period of deception by the beast and false prophet before the end. This earlier phase of deception throughout the church age is narrated in ch. 13. That 20:3 refers, in fact, to an earlier or at least broader period of deception than merely the end of history is indicated by the fact that the title for Satan in 20:2 is a verbatim quotation from 12:9, where the name “the ancient serpent…the devil and Satan” is directly followed by “the one deceiving the whole inhabited earth.” The reference to deception in 12:9 refers to Satan’s deception in the OT era continuing on into the NT era…41

That Satan is “cast out” (ἐκβάλλω) by Christ’s death does not restrict Satan in every way. Rather, it keeps him from preventing “all people” throughout the earth being drawn to Jesus (John 12:31-32).42

Throughout the time between Christ’s first and second comings, Satan will not be able to deceive any of “the full number” (6:11) of those purchased by Christ because they have been “sealed” (see on 7:1-8). When “the full number” has been gathered in, then the devil will be permitted to deceive the majority living at the end of history, causing them not only to be blinded by the truth of Christ but also to seek to annihilate Christ’s followers.43

During the age preceding Christ’s final coming not all of Satan’s deceiving activities are curtailed by the binding of vv 2-3 but only his deception of the nations, which will result in the nations coming together to attempt to destroy the entire community of faith on earth. Hence, during the age when Christ “builds his church…the gates of hell will not prevail over” the church’s growth because “the keys of the kingdom” have been given to the church to overcome Satan’s deception against it (Matt 16:18-19). But at the end of the age, persecution by deceived multitudes will break out against the church, such that it would vanish were it not for God’s intervention on its behalf (so also Mark 13:19-22; Matt. 24:21-24).44

Included also in the restraint on the devil’s deceiving activity is that he is not able to delude and mount hostile attack against the covenant community during the age after Christ’s resurrection in the way that he formerly did45

Rev. 12:2-5 telescopes this process of Satanic oppression against the covenant community climaxing with Christ’s death and resurrection. All who subsequently identify with Jesus as true Israel begin to fulfill the commission to be a light to the nations, so that Satan’s veil of deception over the nations is lifted (cf. Isa. 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:18, 23). This means that the devil will not be able to stop the spread of the preaching of the gospel or its expanding reception (= the church) during most of the age preceding Christ’s return.46

The nature of the binding in 20:3 is contextually determined and defined by 20:7-9 as a temporary divine power keeping Satan from mounting a worldwide force to destroy God’s community of saints on earth.47

Apparently, Beale sees two sides to the deception of the nations. Satan is not able to deceive the nations in the sense that he cannot stop the spread and reception of the gospel, and he cannot deceive a worldwide force into attempting to destroy God’s community of saints. It also appears that he views the latter as a result of the former. This not necessarily a problem in and of itself, but it does pose a problem with his view of τὰ ἔθνη. Beale articulates his view of the deception in such a way that the emphasis is on preventing Satan in deceiving the elect. However, he sees τὰ ἔθνη as referring to the unbelieving of the nations, rather than the elect. This problem is removed if he adopts the view of τὰ ἔθνη that I have suggested above, but in so doing he must abandon the only substantial objection against the progressive interpretation.

However, there is a more serious problem than this. Beale admits that ἔτι refers back to Satan’s previous deceptive activities. However, he sees the imprisonment imagery as merely preventing him from deceiving the nations as he once did, i.e., in the OT era. There are several problems with this. First, he seems to interpret the deception in terms of its degree of success and failure, not in terms of its attempt. While admitting that Satan will ultimately fail in his objective of destroying the covenant community, he, nevertheless views Satan continuously attempting such a goal, and only at the end does he succeed in mounting a worldwide lethal attack. However, the imprisonment imagery argues more for the idea that Satan will be prevented from even making the attempt at deceiving the nations, while the purpose clause makes it clear that he will not have any success, not simply limited success.

Second, Beale’s interpretation of Rev 12:7–13:18 views deception occurring throughout the church age. However, this is the very deception from which he is prevented from doing. While he may be correct that the deception ultimately in mind is the worldwide deception reflected in 19:20 (cf. 20:8), Rev 13:14 also reflects a worldwide deception and refers to the worship of the beast and his image. Revelation makes no distinction between the deception in 13:14 and 19:20.

Third, the deception of the nations seems to be a bit broader than what Beale has suggested. It does not refer simply to a worldwide lethal attack against the covenant community. It also includes the worship of the beast and rebellion against Christ as Rev 13:14-18 and 19:19-20 makes clear. This worldwide worship of the beast takes place during the church age, according to Beale and other preconsummationists. Again, it is this very deception that 20:3 states will not occur.

Finally, this view of deception is historically insensitive. There has been widespread deception and persecution towards the church throughout the church age. Persecution of the church was initiated under the reigns of Nero, Domitian and Diocletian, the last, at least, was empire wide. The bastions of Christianity of Asia Minor and North Africa in the first six centuries have all been under Muslim control for the past several centuries.48 Three quarters of the earth’s population are still Islamic, Buddhist, or Hindu. Communism in the 20th century has threatened to stamp out Christianity.49 All of this suggests that Satan is very much at the business of “deceiving the nations” and is having more success than he is failure.50

To summarize, the recapitulation/preconsummationist view of Rev 20:1-3 fails on the following points: (1) Its nonabsolute confinement interpretation is inconsistent both with the imagery and confinement imagery used here and elsewhere in Revelation and the NT. (2) Identifying Rev 9:1-11, 12:7-11, and 20:1-3 as the same or synchronous events either makes the visions contradictory or introduces inconsistent elements into the symbolism. (3) The view of τὰ ἔθνη is inconsistent with their interpretation of the deception. (4) The interpretation of the deception is inconsistent when Rev 13:14 and 19:20 are compared. (5) Finally, it is historically insensitive.

The Reign of the Saints in Rev 20:4-6

The recapitulation view argues that the reign of the saints in 20:4-6 refers to the reign of martyred saints in heaven throughout the church age.51 The major problem with this view is that it is inconsistent with the references to the saints’ reign elsewhere in Revelation. The emphasis in Revelation is a future reign on the earth that is part of the reward which the saints receive at Christ’s coming. While Revelation does seem to express “conditional comings” (2:5, 16), these appear to refer to judgments within the church, not to rewards for the overcomers.52 The rewards for the saints are explicitly associated with the Second Coming in 11:18 and 22:12. Thus, the reward of the reign of the saints should also have reference to Christ’s Second Coming.53 The reward of ruling the nations in 2:25-29 better fits with the eschatological reign since Ps 2:8-9 is also alluded to in Rev 19:15. Christ’s coming in 3:11 is mentioned in reference to the reward of 3:12, which is associated with the New Jerusalem. Revelation 3:21 refers to sitting with Christ on His throne as a reward for maintaining a faithful witness. This reward, in the absence of any contrary evidence, would primarily refer to the rule granted to the overcomer at the Second Coming.

Revelation 5:10 makes it clear  that the reign of the saints is on the earth. If one adopts the reading of the future indicative βασιλεύσουσιν, then that reign is also future and would occur only after the Second Coming.54 This reference and Rev 20:6 also draw two significant concepts together: the priestly service and reigning with Christ.55 Revelation 20:6 may be John’s focal point for fulfilling the reign-on-earth promise of 5:10.56 Revelation 22:5 also refers to a future eternal reign on the new earth. While this is not synonymous with the reign of the saints in Rev 20:4-6, there may be temporal overlap. The reign of the saints in the Millennium could be included in the eternal reign.57 Even if the two references should be distinguished, the eternal reign still emphasizes a future reign on the earth. Therefore, due to the absence of any explicit reference of heaven in 20:4-6, and the emphasis of a future reign on earth as a reward presented at Christ’s Second Coming elsewhere in Revelation, the reigning of the saints should also be understood as referring to a postconsummationist reign on the earth with Christ.

The Significance of the Accusative for Extent of Time

Each reference to the 1000 years in Rev 20:1-6 is in the accusative case and is used to denote extent of time. Wallace explains the difference between the genitive, dative, and accusative of time:

One way to remember the distinctions between the cases used for time is to remember the root idea of each case. However, under the five-case system this may prove a bit confusing. Therefore, for the cases used for time, it may be helpful to think in terms of the eight-case system. The root idea of the genitive is kind. Thus, the genitive of time expresses the kind of time or time within which. The root idea of the locative (not dat.) is position, expressing point in time. The root idea for the accusative is extent. Thus the accusative of time expresses the extent of time.58

Thus, Satan is imprisoned for the extent of the entire 1000-year period, and for this same time period the saints reign with Christ. The significance of the accusative in 20:4-6 is that all the saints reign for this period. The entire group begins the reign together and continues the reign for the entire period. In the preconsummationist/recapitulation view, the martyred saints enter into their reign with Christ upon their death sometime after the 1000-year period has begun. In effect, the entrance of the martyred saints into their reign is distributed throughout the Millennial period, some not entering into it until the period is almost over. However, if this understanding were correct, the genitive of time would be more suitable. All other occurrences of groups or plural subjects with the accusative of extent of time in the NT have the entire group beginning and ending the period of time together.59 This, then, would require the Millennium to begin after the church period following the return of Christ, since this is the first time the martyred saints could begin a reign as an entire group, including every individual. The significance of this point is often overlooked and has not been discussed in the literature.


The progressive/postconsummationist view of Rev 20:1-6 should be preferred over the recapitulation/ preconsummationist view for the following reasons: (1) the absolute sense of the imprisonment imagery in 20:1-3, (2) the future and earthly orientation of the saints reign throughout the Apocalypse, including this passage, (3) the use and significance of the accusative for extent of time for χίλια ἔτη in reference to the reign of the saints in 20:4-6. There are many other issues that could be discussed and that have been in the literature; however, these three arguments have not been given the attention they deserve, and they make a strong case for the progressive/postconsummationist/premillennial view of Rev 20:1-6.

1 A preconsummationist view sees the events of Rev 20:1-6 as occurring before the physical return of Christ. This would apply to those who hold both amillennial and postmillennial views of Rev 20:1-10, although the postmillennial view holds to chronological progression between Rev 19:11-21 and 20:1-6 rather than Rev 20:1-6 going back to the beginning of the church age (recapitulation). However, postmillennialists and amillennialists interpret Rev 20:1-10 in very much the same way; their differences lie in the interpretation of Rev 19:11-21.

2 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 144-51, 972-1031; Don Garlington, “Reigning with Christ: Revelation 20:1-6 in It's Salvation-Historical Setting,” BRT 4 (Spring 1994): 4-37; Vern S. Poythress, “Genre and Hermeneutics in Rev 20:1-6,” JETS 36 (March 1993): 41-54; R. Fowler White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Rev 20:1-10,” WTJ 51 (Fall 1989): 319-44; idem. “Making Sense of Rev 20:1-10? Harold Hoehner Versus Recapitulation,” JETS 37 (December 1994): 539-51; idem. “On the Hermeneutics and Interpretation of Rev 20:1-3: A Preconsummationist Perspective,” JETS 42 (March 1999): 53-66.

3 Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 457.

4 A postconsummationist view would see the events of Rev 20:1-6 following the events of Rev 19:11-21. Thus, it denotes chronological progression between the two passages, and is essentially premillennial.

5 Ibid.

6 Herman A. Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 66-68.

7 David J. MacLeod, “The Third “Last Thing": The Binding of Satan (Rev. 20:1-3),” BSac 156, no. 624 (October 1999): 469-86; Robert L. Thomas, “A Classical Dispensationalist View of Revelation,” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation, ed. C. Marvin Pate, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 204; Revelation 8-22, WEC (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 567-85.

8 MacLeod, “The Third “Last Thing,"“ 479-82; Thomas, “A Classical Dispensationalist View of Revelation,” 205; Revelation 8-22, 405.

9 Thomas, “A Classical Dispensationalist View of Revelation,” 205.

10 Jack S. Deere, “Premillennialism in Revelation 20:4-6,” BSac 135, no. 537 (January 1978): 65-69; George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillenialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 17-46; Thomas, “A Classical Dispensationalist View of Revelation,” 206; Revelation 8-22, 416-17.

11 Sam Hamstra Jr., “An Idealist View of Revelation,” in Four views on the Book of Revelation, ed. C. Marvin Pate, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 121.

12 Robert B. Strimple, “Amillennialism,” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 100-01; “An Amillennial Response to Craig A. Blaising,” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 264.

13 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 10-11.

14 This is especially true of the 1290 days and 1335 days of Dan 12:11-12 since Beale, The Book of Revelation, 993 (and other preconsummationists) argues that the 1260 days refers to the church age which now includes about two millennia.

15 R. Fowler White, “Reexamining the Evidence,” 219-44; “Making Sense of Rev 20:1-10?” 539-51.

16 These arguments do not address the previously cited arguments per se, although they do address White's first argument. For a critique of White's third argument see Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism,” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 215-217, fn. 86.

17 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 985-96; Hamstra, “Idealist,” 120; Strimple, “Amillennialism,” 121-24; R. Fowler White, “On the Hermeneutics and Interpretation of Rev 20:1-3,” 62-65.

18 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 985.

19 The reference to the devil casting the saints into prison for ten days in Rev 2:10 is not being considered because it is a literal referent and does not involve the imprisonment of Satan or his minions. However, it is interesting to see that while the saints are confined for ten days, their “warden” will himself be imprisoned for 1000 years. It is possible that the passages have some kind of relationship. What was true of the saints’ imprisonment may even be more true of Satan.

20 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 984 sees the abyss as a synonym for “death and Hades.” However, it seems that they are distinct. Only the demonic are related to the abyss in Revelation. Death and Hades seem mostly related to humanity. In Rev 6:8 death and Hades are personalized and represent the judgment of death upon humanity, death is the experience and Hades is the destination. Death and Hades are again used figuratively in 20:13-14 for those who dwell in Hades and have experienced death as judgment. In the NT, Hades always appears to be the place of the unbelieving dead (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; 10:15; Luke 16:23; 2:27; Acts 2:31; Rev. 1:18; Rev. 6:8; 20:13, 14), and is a realm from which they cannot escape. Beale, 987, also argues that “the abyss is one of the various metaphors representing the spiritual sphere in which the devil and his accomplices operate…” and this sphere “represents a spiritual dimension existing alongside of and in the midst of the earthly…” However, this does violence to the imprisonment imagery of  both 9:1-11 and 20:1-3. In every reference to the abyss, the being or beings which are contained in it must emerge from it in order to interact with the human realm. This suggests that the sphere of the abyss, like the realm of the dead, is separate from the realm of living humanity, and those who dwell in the abyss have no contact with those outside that sphere. This may explain why the demons of Luke 8:31 pleaded with Jesus not to send them to the abyss. It is a place of judgment with no contact with the sphere of humanity. Thus, it is not “overly literalistic” to see the abyss as separate from the earth (Ibid.).

21 Under preconsummationist exegesis, this would refer primarily to spiritual harm (Beale, The Book of Revelation, 496; Gregg, Revelation: Four Views, 177). However, the demonic forces have always had this authority. This leads to the conclusion that this group of demons have not had this authority, and thus have not had contact with the realm of living humanity.

22 The inclusion of the adjectival participial clause, οἱ ἡτοιμασμένοι εἰς τὴν ὥραν και; ἡμέραν καὶ μῆνα καὶ ἐνιαυτόν, suggests that the angels were prepared solely for this purpose at this time. If the four angels are identified with the four winds of 7:1 (see Beale, The Book of Revelation, 507-08) this understanding would be reinforced.

23 The parallel in Luke 11:22 uses conquest imagery, rather an binding imagery. The stronger man overcomes the strong man, takes away his armor, and plunders his house.

24 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 985; Hamstra, “Idealist,” 120; Strimple, “Amillennialism,” 122.

25 First Peter 3:19 makes mention of “spirits in prison” (τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν) to whom Christ preached between his death and resurrection or resurrection and ascension. It is uncertain whether these spirits refer to fallen angels or the spirits of wicked men during the time of Noah. If it refers to fallen angels, then this reference would be parallel to 2 Pet 2:4 and Jude 6. Either way, the spirits appear to be confined absolutely.

26 Or pits if σιροῖς is read. א (A B C 81: σει-) pc h vgms; Aug Cass read σιροῖς. ¸72 P Ψ 33 1739 ÷ vg sy read σειραῖς. Either way, the imprisonment imagery is preserved.

27 Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude, NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 378-79.

28 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 989 appears to admit this, however, he sees the imprisoned angels as active on earth subsequent to their imprisonment (990). It is uncertain whether he views the entire realm to be involved or not. Nevertheless, Rev 9:1-17 depicts two different groups of imprisoned demons, so the entire demonic realm is probably not in view. Beale does see absolute confinement involved in Tob 8:3; 1 Enoch 18:11–19:3; 88:1-3; Jub. 5:6-14. However, he disputes absolute confinement in T. Levi 18:12 and Jub. 48:15-17. However, the binding imagery in the former reference does not include imprisonment, so it is probably an image of conquest and authority. In Jub. 48:15-17 Beale again makes the mistake of assuming a purpose clause limits the degree of confinement. Mastema is bound and imprisoned so that he might not accuse the children of Israel. But an absolute confinement would also accomplish that imprisonment. Beale may be correct that Gos. Nic (=Act Pil.) 22:2 refers to non-absolute confinement since the time is specifically designated as between the death of Christ and His Second Coming. This passage may reflect an early preconsummationist understanding of Rev 20:1-3, if the author was familiar with Revelation. More likely it is an imaginative elaboration on Matt 12:29 (cf. Gos. Nic. 20:2 and the dialogue between Satan and Hades). Most commentators agree that ultimately the imprisonment imagery of Rev 20:1-3 is derived from Isa 24:21-22 where the Lord will confine the hosts of heaven and the kings of the earth like prisoners in a dungeon until the day of their final judgment comes. This also suggests absolute confinement since prisoners in a dungeon have no contact with the outside world.

White, “On the Hermeneutics and Interpretation of Rev 20:1-3,” 62-63 argues that the dragon's fate is analogous to but not identical to the fate of Satan in history. He argues that John in Revelation adopts the victory-house building paradigm, which includes God's conquest of the dragon, as hermeneutical of the historical events linked with Christ's death/exaltation. He also argues that in other texts where anti-creative/anti-redemptive animal imagery is applied to an entity in history, the monster's fate in the epic idiom is only analogous, and not identical to its fate in history. However, this would then be problematic with the fate of the beast and false prophet in Rev 19:20, and Satan in 20:10, who all are consigned to the lake of fire. Is this depiction only analogous to their fate in history? What would be the analogy to the lake of fire? Would this also be true of the dead in Rev 20:15? On the other hand, if the depiction of the ultimate destiny of the beast, false prophet, Satan, and the dead do correspond to their fate in history, on what basis would one make an exception in this case, but not in the case of Satan's imprisonment in 20:1-3? In light of this problem, it seems best to see the epic imagery as not necessarily analogous in 19:11–20:15, but, indeed, corresponding to their respective fates in history.

29 The idea of “locked” is implied in ἔκλεισεν since the related word κλεῖν  refers to the key.

30 Although not mentioned explicitly, it is implied that those under Satan are also imprisoned. This is also the assumption in Rev 20:10 where the devil is thrown into the lake of fire. Although no mention is made about the fate of Satan's minions, it is unlikely that they would be excluded from their master's judgment. Also, the images of the abyss and binding in the Jewish writings and the NT do refer to demons being imprisoned, and this suggests that this would be the case as well in Rev 20:1-3. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 990 argues that the concept of the “abyss” in Revelation is non-absolute. He notes that in 6:8 “Hades” exercises its influence over the people of the earth. However, he mistakenly assumes that the realm of the dead (Hades) and the Satanic realm are the same. While Satan has the power of death, he does not have power over the dead. He cannot raise the dead, nor release the dead from Hades. In fact, it is only when the key is given him that he can release the demons in Rev 9:1-11 or, presumably, the beast in 11:7. In Rev 6:8, Death and Hades are personalized for the judgment of death that is executed on the earth. While Satan and his minions are certainly involved in this judgment, the inhabitants of Hades are not coming forth to execute it. The shutting up of the pit is metaphorical for an absolute removal of influence, rather than a limited curtailment of influence, but this does not rule out the probability that it is a sphere of the spiritual world which prevents access to the physical world.

31 Ibid., 986, 992.

32 Ibid., 492, 987.

33 The amillennial/recapitulation interpretation of Rev 12:9-11 raises the question of whether or not Satan's accusing activities have ended. If Satan's casting from heaven is the result of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, then this text would mean that Satan is no longer permitted to accuse the brethren during the church age. However, there are several texts that suggest that Satan continues his accusing activities during the present age. Romans 8:33-34, Heb 7:24-25 and 1 John 2:1-2 refer to Christ as an intercessor and advocate before the Father. The courtroom imagery suggests that there is an accuser, even though his accusations are overruled.

34 William J. Webb, “Revelation 20: Exegetical Considerations,” BRT 4, no. 2 (Fall 1994): 24 makes the same argument, although he does not discuss the significance of the casting imagery. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 994 simply dismisses this argument by asserting that the different portrayals mutually interpret one another. Part of this is due to his misconception that the abyss is a sphere of demonic activity, rather than captivity.

35 Webb, “ Revelation 20,” 21, 24, fn. 51. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 995 replies to this point by arguing that the increase in persecution of the church does not mean an increase in deception. However, Satan is called “the deceiver of the whole earth” ( πλανῶν τὴν οἰκουμένην ὅλην) in 12:9 and is behind the deceptive activities of the beast and false prophet in 13:14 (πλανᾷ τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς).

36 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 993.

37 Ibid., 995, 1018. Beale confesses that the meaning of “long era” is not the primary point, but he seems to think that it is part of the meaning. But other amillennialists do see this as the meaning. See Gregg, Revelation: Four Views, 466, 468.

38 It is very likely that the different designations in Rev 11:2-3, 12:6, 14 should be taken literally since they all equal the same length of time. Also, even if the number is symbolic, it should at least be some approximation to the length of time designated. However, to be fair, it is possible that under the idealist approach this kind of contradiction could make some logical sense, but that sense is not at all obvious, and it requires much explanation. It also has the additional problem of finding other examples that are not equally disputable. Thus, this involves the larger problem of hermeneutical control.

39 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 981; White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation,” 321; “Making Sense,” 540-41.

40 To argue that the redeemed from among the nations will be placed within the Divine Warrior’s kingdom-protectorate  (White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation,” 324) is of little value since the whole world will constitute Messiah's kingdom-protectorate. The nations would be subgroups within this protectorate.

41 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 983.

42 Ibid., 985.

43 Ibid., 986-87.

44 Ibid., 987.

45 Ibid., 988.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid., 990. Incredibly, later he argues that an increase in persecution in 12:11-17 does not lead to the conclusion that there is an increase in deception (995).

48 This includes all of the churches addressed in Revelation.

49 See David J. MacLeod, “The Third “Last Thing": The Binding of Satan (Rev. 20:1-3),” BSac 156, no. 624 (October 1999):480-81.

50 White, “On the Hermeneutics and Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3,” 65 argues that Satan's deception of the nations refers strictly to the gathering of nations worldwide “for the age-ending battle against the Divine Warrior.” However, this still has the problem of the ἔτι of 20:3 which would refer back both chronologically and literarily to a previous world-wide battle against Christ. This is the battle depicted in 19:11-21. Also, the deception of the nations mentioned in 19:20 is associated with the beast and the false prophet, thus, there seems to be little basis for seeing a distinction between the deception of the dragon and his agents.

51 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 991-1007; Gregg, Revelation: Four Views, 464, 466, 468, 470, 472; Hamstra, “ Idealist,” 84-85; Strimple, “Amillennialism,” 125-27.

52 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 197-99 argues that the “coming” in 1:7 and elsewhere in Revelation is a process occurring throughout history, and that the process is concluded by the “second coming.” These “comings” in blessing and judgment throughout history are a manifestation of Christ's eschatological authority. Beale seems to emphasize the inaugurated eschatology aspects of Christ's coming too much. His argument that the allusion to Dan 7:13 in Christ's coming with the clouds includes the whole course of church history is a bit weak. His denial of a reference to the Second Coming in Mark 13:26 and 14:62 is certainly uncalled for, since Jesus may have both AD 70 and his Second Coming in view. He also overlooks that Dan 7:13 is also alluded to in 1 Thess 4:16-17, which is certainly a reference to Christ's coming for His saints (and the Second Coming according to amillennialists). Finally, it is likely that 22:12 forms an inclusio with 1:7. Thus, the emphasis on the “coming” of Christ is on the Second Coming, and not on the process of His conditional comings. Ironically, the pretribulation rapture view would fit very well into Beale's conception of the coming of Christ.

53 Contra Beale, The Book of Revelation, 198. He sees the emphasis as on the conditional comings, and allusion to the Second Coming as only possible.

54 The present indicative βασιλεύουσιν is read by A 046 1006 1611 1841 2329 ÷K. The future indicative βασιλεύσουσιν is read by א 025 1854 2050 2053 2344 2351 ÷A lat co; Hipp Cyp. While βασιλεύουσιν is the harder reading, A has mistakenly substituted the present indicative for the future in 20:6. Both external and internal evidence are pretty evenly balanced, but context would slightly prefer the future. Even if the present indicative is read, it may have a proleptic sense. See R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, vol 1, ICC, ed. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, & C. A. Briggs (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1920), 148. See also Beale, The Book of Revelation, 562-64 for arguments for the present indicative and an inaugural reign interpretation. While an inaugural reign may be included, it is doubtful it is the emphasis.

55 Cf. Rev 1:6.

56 Webb, “Revelation 20,” 33-34.

57 Contra Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1116.

58 Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 202-03. Cf. BDF §161 (2); A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934), 469-71.

59 Cf. Matt 20:6; 28:20; John 2:12; 11:6; Acts 21:7; Rev 2:10; 9:10.

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Eschatology (Things to Come), Grammar

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