17 – God’s Promise to Israel Fulfilled (Revelation 20)

Home Learning Hub Reflections in Revelations 17 – God’s Promise to Israel Fulfilled (Revelation 20)

The millennium of Rev 20 coincides with the passage in Peter about the destruction of Jerusalem. We have mentioned this earlier in this book, when Peter used the text from Isaiah 34, about the stars falling from heaven and the heavens being rolled up as a scroll, to designate the end of the Jerusalem Old Testament, temple age.

Many have done to Peter, what they have done to the Revelation, taking it out of its context in the day it was written, to give it some other meaning about the end of the world. This has confused our understanding of the future, giving us a kind of Greek, Platonist view of the earth, as if God wants to destroy it and give us an individualistic, spiritual salvation only, in heaven. This is far from the Hebrew gospel, which is about a combined, unified new heavens and new earth restoration.

It’s very difficult to think that Peter, writing just before the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, especially as he was writing to the Jewish diaspora, would not have been thinking of Jerusalem’s imminent fall. It’s difficult to understand why we refuse to read Peter in his own situation and time, thinking he was writing about our day some 2,000 years later. It reminds me of the old song, which probably few of the readers of this book will know, that says, “You’re so vain… You probably think this song is about you…” I think that’s what we do when we interpret Jesus’ “endtimes” teachings, thinking they was addressed to us.

Peter was reiterating what Jesus taught the disciples on the Mount of Olives, about the times before Jerusalem would be burnt with fire. All the apostles did this. James said the coming of the Lord was near. John said, in his letters, the last days have come. Peter said, the end of all things is at hand. They were all speaking of the signs Jesus gave them of the fall of the temple and city in their generation. And they all used normal apocalyptic language, known to their generation, to describe this event.

When Peter spoke of the fall of Jerusalem, he said the purpose of the delay in God’s judgment was to bring in the harvest. This was the 144,000 Revelation spoke of, the gathering of believers from the tribes of Israel. The figure meant 12 x 12 for the tribes of Israel, then x 1,000, which designates the complete harvest for that period. So, the 1,000 represents the harvest period, before Jerusalem fell. Peter likened this period to “1,000 years,” and then the judgement would come.

This is the millennium in Rev 20. It is because we have taken Revelation out of its first century context, that we have tried to understand if from the perspective of the Greek church. I think we began to do this, as the Greek church fathers increased in number, who had lost touch with some concepts of Hebrew faith. It has been during the last 70 years, after the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that many of the first century ways of understanding scripture have become known. These include things that most Reformers simply could not have known.

But Greek interpretations increased after the church joined with the Roman Empire under Constantine. The church had to spiritualise many of the teachings of Jesus, resisting their clear implications for enemy love and community building. We returned to a form of nationalism within the church. Part of this was to consider the Jews the enemy of the faith and resist any of their forms of theology as heretical. This left us reading the scriptures mainly from our Platonist views.

So, the entire Revelation was disconnected from its Jewish history and applied only to a gentilised church. This meant that it had to be seen entirely as a futuristic book. The millennium then had to be interpreted outside its first century AD setting, which gave us three options: amillennialism, post-millennialism, or per-millennialism. I will assume the reader has some background in these three views.

My view is that each of these are variations of a Greek church’s mindset, that is divorced from its proper Hebrew setting, when the apostles wrote.

So, I suggest that the millennium, is that period in which God’s grace was holding back the judgement upon Jerusalem, until the full harvest of people came to faith, as Peter said, for God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” This is designated in Revelation by the symbolic language of “satan being bound.” This means that his full deception, which brought about a complete destruction, was curtailed for a time. It was in the latter part of Nero’s reign, that this period of grace began to draw to and end.

After this “1,000 years,” satan was released for a short period, which means the time it took him to gather the armies to Jerusalem. After this short period, satan would be overthrown regarding his attempts to destroy the church through Jerusalem and the beast in the first century. The Lamb had come out victorious and the nations would be coming into his kingdom in the years ahead.

Then John saw the church reigning with Christ. This includes believers then on earth and those who had been martyred. John saw their souls, raised from the dead. “Soul” here doesn’t mean a non-physical form of life, the way the Greek would think of it.

“Soul” means a living person. John was seeing believers who had already been raised from the dead bodily.

This brings us to a discussion of the resurrection of the body, again, from the perspective of Hebrew faith in the first century. God had promised that he would raise them to his eternal kingdom in the days of Rome. (Daniel 12) We see this, in Daniel’s narrative, happening during the period in which the beast of Rome met his demise. This was in the days of John.

This is the resurrection Paul spoke of in many of his letters. When we read Paul’s statements, from this Hebrew perspective, and not in our Greek format about going to heaven when we die, we see, I believe, Paul saying that this resurrection of his body would occur as soon as he died. I have gone through each of Paul’s statement in my book, Heaven and Earth, so I won’t repeat that here. But I believe, as the resurrection of some saints was seen in Jerusalem when Christ died, that God fulfilled his promise to the Jewish people at that time. Of course, to this natural world, a dead body is not yet raised, but to God, who lives outside of our time, to die is to pass bodily into his eternal state.

The resurrection of believers was already taking place because Christ was raised. But the resurrection of the wicked was withheld until after Jerusalem fell, at least in the story line of John in the Revelation. This is because the final eternal judgement of the wicked couldn’t be seen as occurring in the story line until after Jerusalem had been judged. The eternal judgement was a simple affirmation of what people had determined for themselves in their earthly lives. This all gets a bit like C. S Lewis, for those familiar with this author. He described these eternal issues as separate from our own pre-resurrection time.

Much of the text in Rev 20 was taken from Ezekiel’s description of Gog and Magog. Ezekiel’s writing is also apocalyptic, describing in symbolic terms the way God’s promises are to be fulfilled, concerning the renewed creation. Ezekiel says of Gog and Magog, “And you shall say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn your hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.” (Ezekiel 38:11-12)

Gog and Magog come to attack a people at peace. This is the believers, followers of the Lamb, the pacifists in John’s time. They were vulnerable to attack, without walls, sharing their lives together in harmony, without weapons of war. Jerusalem wanted their goods They were the covetous. Their whole reason for attacking the church was to secure the wealth of Jerusalem and to take more off whomever they could. The believers were gathered from other nations also, from many different backgrounds, formerly from desolate places, by now have come into new life in the gospel.

Satan brought people together, from Israel and all their allies among Rome and her 10 kings, from all corners of the land of Israel, and across many parts of the Roman Empire, to round up and kill the Christians. They encircled “the beautiful city.” This is the heavenly Jerusalem, the Zion of God, the new temple, the restored Jerusalem of Ezekiel. This is the redeemed people, the church. This is the Jerusalem that is above, now present on earth in the church.

But when the leaders of the city of Jerusalem, that was below, had done their worst in attacking the Christians, Rome encircled old Jerusalem and destroyed it with fire. And Rome and her kings, threw the bodies of the people of Jerusalem into Gehenna, outside Jerusalem, just as Jesus and Revelation warned. This doesn’t only happen in the narrative of Rev 20, it happened also in history.

It is at this point that satan is thrown into the lake of fire. This could mean various things. It could signal the end of his first century attempt to destroy the church. This is what Revelation is largely about, as chapter 12 explains, satan’s attempt through the beast and the false prophet, to kill Christ and then come after the church, before it broke out into the nations. His demise in the lake of fire could signal his failure in his first century mission and the beginning of the renewal of the nations.

It could also be from the perspective of those who died in the first century, both Christians and those who received the mark of the beast, being ushered straight to the resurrection and judgement at the end of our current age: which Daniel 12 spoke of, fulfilled to Israel in the days of the Roman Empire. Some argue, shifting “Daniel’s beast” to our own day, as a “revived Roman Empire,” that these first century people are still awaiting the resurrection and judgement. But there is no evidence in Daniel of this idea. It is better to see that in God’s eternal time, he fulfilled his promise about the resurrection and judgement in the days of John, and we all join that immediately upon our own death. As Hebrews said, “It is appointed for man once to die, and after that, the judgement.” That is, when the people of the first century went to the resurrection and judgement, satan had already been eternally dealt with. Not only satan, but also death itself, and the grave, were all thrown into the lake of fire. This gives us further insight into this apocalyptic symbol. Non-personal entities can’t be “tormented day and night forever,” in the sense of a conscious life in fire. The meaning of this symbol is what the Revelation calls the “second death,” and death in Hebrew theology means destruction. To be tormented day and night forever, means to go into everlasting destruction. Death and the grave are destroyed, which means death is swallowed up by life. Death and evil are banished from God’s creation.

“And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulphur; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day, it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever.” (Isaiah 34:9-10) This apocalyptic language meant Edom was to be destroyed and those who perished would never live again. Revelation applied this language to death itself and to evil, the final taking out of God’s creation all that offends.