Previously: I fell at his feet to worship – Revelation 19:10
Rev. 19:11 – Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a fiery flame, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. 13 He wore a robe stained with blood, and His name is called the Word of God. 14 The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. 15 From His mouth came a sharp sword, so that with it He might strike the nations. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. 16 And on his robe and on His thigh He has a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (HCSB)
Then I saw heaven opened
For a second time in Revelation, John sees both heaven opened and a white horse. But the visions are not the same. In Rev. 4:1, after obeying the command to write to seven churches in Asia Minor, John sees an open door in heaven and is invited to “Come up here” where he is shown what must take place after this. Now, in Rev. 19:11, he sees heaven opened once again and views the climax of these events. In a similar fashion, John has seen a rider on a white horse in Rev. 6:2, and he sees a rider again now. But they are very different riders.
While some commentators argue that the riders in both passages depict Jesus, the differences between the riders indicate otherwise. In fact, the only similarity is that both characters are riding white horses. It’s more likely that the rider in Rev. 6:2 symbolizes the quest of Rome’s neighbors, particularly the Parthians, to expand their empires, leading to war (red horse), famine (black horse), and epidemic disease (pale horse). Or, as futurists contend, the rider depicts the Antichrist of the end times.
Rev. 14:14 – Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and One like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a gold crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. (HCSB)
One like the Son of Man
Seated on the cloud is “One like the Son of Man.” He wears a gold crown on His head and wields a sharp sickle in His hand. There is little doubt that this is Jesus, who calls Himself the Son of Man more than 80 times in the Gospels. The name is not exclusive to Jesus in scripture. For example, the Lord calls Ezekiel “son of man” more than 90 times, and the angel Gabriel once refers to Daniel by the same moniker. But there is no doubt that in specific contexts “Son of Man” refers to the second person of the Godhead.
The Son of Man clearly is a divine being in Dan. 7:13, and Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64) is sufficient testimony to convict Him of blasphemy and condemn Him to death in the eyes of Caiaphas. It’s important for us to understand that in preferring to call Himself “Son of Man” rather than “Son of God,” Jesus is communicating His incarnation. He is neither denying His deity nor exalting His humanity; rather, He is demonstrating that He is one person with two natures: divine and human.
As Ron Rhodes writes, “First of all, even if the phrase ‘Son of Man’ is a reference to Jesus’ humanity, it is not a denial of His deity. By becoming a man, Jesus did not cease being God. The incarnation of Christ did not involve the subtraction of deity, but the addition of humanity. Jesus clearly claimed to be God on many occasions (Matthew 16:16, 17; John 8:58; 10:30). But in addition to being divine, He was also human (see Philippians 2:6-8). He had two natures (divine and human) conjoined in one person” (found at http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/son-of-man.html).
The name “Son of Man” is found almost exclusively in the mouth of Christ in the New Testament. The apostles and other writers avoid the term, with a couple of exceptions. In Acts 7:55 Stephen exclaims, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” And, of course, in Rev. 14:14 John sees “One like the Son of Man” seated on a white cloud.
The early church fathers are of the opinion that Jesus uses the expression “Son of Man” out of humility and to demonstrate His humanity. Others think He adopts the title so as not to offend His enemies until His hour is at hand. Then, associating this lowly title with Dan. 7:13 and tying it to His deity forces the hands of both His accusers and followers to acknowledge Him as Messiah or reject Him as a pretender. At last, this title is “capable of being applied so as to cover His Messianic claims – to include everything that had been foretold of the representative man, the second Adam, the suffering servant of Jehovah, the Messianic king” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Son of Man”).
Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times. The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.
Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.
Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.
Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.
There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.
With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.
This is Part 3 of a series on the end times. Click on the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to access all lessons under the heading, “End Times.”
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. [I] also [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over these, but they will be priests of God and the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison … (HCSB)
When do these 1,000 years take place? Have they already occurred, or are they in the future? Are we to take the millennium literally or figuratively? Is it possible we are in the millennium today? Christians have answered these and other related questions differently throughout the church age and in some cases have argued heatedly for their particular point of view. The purpose of our study is to identify and understand four major views of the millennium: postmillennialism, amillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. This document will briefly highlight these views.
Generally speaking, the millennium describes a period in which Christ and His followers reign; when Satan is bound; when righteousness overshadows (but does not yet eliminate) wickedness; and when, according to some views, there are significant (but not yet perfect) improvements in nature and the animal kingdom. Whether one understands the millennium literally or figuratively has a lot to do with his or her view as to when and where these events take place. All of the views call us to look for a future, visible, physical return of Christ and to anticipate the time in which He creates new heavens and a new earth. The primary differences center around whether Jesus returns before or after the millennium; whether the events described take place in heaven or on earth; whether the 1,000 years are literal or figurative; whether Christ’s return is a singular event to a two-stage event (the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing); and whether Christians will endure some or all of the tribulation – a time of intense persecution prior to the second coming.
As we look at different views of the end times, it’s important to note the biblical truths affirmed by all of these views: 1) Jesus will return physically, visibly and personally in the future; 2) Jesus will resurrect all people, who will stand in final judgment resulting in heaven or hell; and 3) He will create new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and in which Satan, demons and unbelievers have no part.
Last week we surveyed post- and amillennialism. This week we will look at premillennialism.
The Historic / Classical Premillennial View
The prefix “pre” means “before,” and therefore premillennialism teaches that Christ will return before the millennium. Historic or classical premillennialism has a long history dating back to the early centuries of the church. According to this view, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of suffering known as the Tribulation comes to earth. After the Tribulation, Christ will return to establish the millennial kingdom, which some premillennialists understand as a literal 1,000 years and others take to be simply a long period of time. At the return of Jesus, believers who have died will be resurrected and given glorified bodies. Believers who are alive at this time will receive glorified bodies as well, and all believers will reign on earth with Christ throughout the millennium. Many, but not all, unbelievers on the earth will trust in Christ as Savior. Satan will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit, where he will have no influence over mankind until the 1,000 years (or long period of time) are through. Some historic premillennialists believe we will see the new heavens and earth at this time, while others hold to the view that this will not take place until after Satan, demons and all unbelievers are cast into hell following final judgment.
At the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed and join forces with unbelievers, many of whom have submitted outwardly to Christ’s reign but inwardly are rebellious. Together, they will wage war against the Messiah, who defeats them decisively. Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire (hell). All unbelievers will be resurrected, stand in final judgment, and be separated eternally from God in hell. Believers will then enter the eternal state.
The premillennial view has been most popular throughout history during times of persecution, although it became an especially attractive view in the 20th century due in part to authors like Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, who tied current events to end-times prophecies and who popularized the dispensational premillennial view in novels.
Arguments for historic premillennialism include:
- Revelation 20 is best understood as referring to a future earthly reign of Christ prior to the eternal state.
- Several Old Testament passages seem to fit neither the present age nor the eternal state and therefore suggest a millennial reign of righteousness, for example Ps. 72:8-14; Isa. 11:6-9; 65:20; Zech. 14:5-17.
- There are New Testament passages other than Revelation 20 that suggest a future millennium (1 Cor. 15:23-24; Rev. 2:26-27).
- The New Testament suggests that persecution/tribulation will affect all believers, who should not expect to be spared a time of trial (2 Tim. 3:12).
Arguments against historic premillennialism include:
- Only Rev. 20:1-6 mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, and this passage is obscure. It is best not to base a major doctrine on a single passage in the Bible.
- The Scriptures teach only one resurrection, not two (or more) separated by 1,000 years. Dan. 12:2, John 5:28-29, and Acts 24:15 indicate a single, or general, resurrection of all people.
- There seems to be no ultimate purpose for a literal 1,000 reign of Christ on earth. Once Jesus has returned, what’s the point of delaying the eternal state?
- Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events of the end times will occur at once, not spread out over 1,000 years or more.
The Dispensational / Pretribulational Premillennial View
This view is similar to the historic premillennial view with one major exception: It holds that the present church age will end suddenly with the Rapture of the church – the physical removal of dead and living believers from the earth – prior to a seven-year Tribulation, which is followed by the return of Christ to earth. “According to this view, the church age will continue until, suddenly, unexpectedly, and secretly, Christ will return part way to earth, and then will call believers to himself: ‘The dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air’ (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Christ will then return to heaven with the believers who have been removed from the earth. When that happens, there will be a great tribulation on the earth for a period of seven years” (Grudem, p. 1113). Some interpreters hold to a “midtribulation rapture,” meaning that the church will go through the first 3 ½ years of the tribulation before being caught up into heaven.
During the tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to appear before Christ’s return will be fulfilled – for example, the redemption of a large number of Jews as they receive Jesus as Messiah, and effective worldwide evangelism led largely by Jewish Christians. At the end of the tribulation, Jesus will return to earth with the saints to reign for 1,000 years. Following the millennium, Satan will be loosed from his 1,000 bondage and lead a worldwide rebellion, which Jesus will put down. This will be followed by the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and new heavens and earth.
This view became especially popular in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is embraced by those who wish to maintain a clear distinction between Israel and the Church. The pretribulational view maintains this distinction because the Church is removed from the earth prior to the conversion of the Jewish people. This view also holds to a “literal where possible” interpretation of scripture, which applies especially to Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and a reading of the Book of Revelation.
Arguments for and against dispensational premillennialism are much the same as those for and against historic premillennialism, with one notable addition: The dispensational view insists that Christ’s return (specifically, the Rapture) could occur “at any moment” and supports the biblical warnings to be ready, while at the same time allowing for a literal fulfillment of the signs preceding Christ’s return (specifically, the glorious appearing / second coming).
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which it is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.
Isa. 26:13 – Lord, our God, other lords than You have ruled over us, but we remember Your name alone.
In the context of chapters 24-27, Isaiah uses an analogy of the future destruction of all God’s enemies (chaps. 24-25) to urge the people of Judah to trust Him now (chaps. 26-27). Although God is using the Assyrians as the rod of His judgment against Judah, those who place their faith in the Lord and endure the childbirth-like pains of His correction (vv. 17-18) will rejoice in His salvation: “Yes, Lord, we wait for You in the path of Your judgments. Our desire is for Your name and renown” (v. 8).
Some would argue there’s a contradiction in chapter 26. In verse 14 Isaiah declares that “the dead do not live, departed spirits do not rise up.” Then, in verse 19, he states that “your dead will live; their bodies will rise.” How can both be true? The Apologetics Study Bible explains: “This apparent conflict vanishes when the statements are placed in context. He [Isaiah] referred to past oppressors of Israel, the ‘wicked’ who act ‘unjustly’ (v. 10), the ‘other lords’ who had ruled over God’s people and whom God had already ‘visited and destroyed’ (vv. 13-14). These oppressors could no longer attack God’s people. The situation changed with verse 19; in the future God’s people who die will live … a person can have life after death. The fact that Elijah and Elisha brought to life two boys who had died (1 Kg 17:17-24; 2 Kg 4:18-37), and that a dead man came back to life when his body touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kg 13:20-21), indicates that individual resurrection from the dead was known and experienced long before the time of Isaiah” (pp 1024-25).
The Song of Judah (Isa. 26:1-6)
Although Jerusalem will be surrounded in Isaiah’s day, and vanquished a century later by the Babylonians, the day is coming when Israel’s remnant will sing of their glorious reversal of fortune as they enter the impregnable New Jerusalem. The humble will be exalted and the oppressors crushed. Because of Messiah’s presence there, the city figuratively is said to have salvation as its walls and ramparts (v. 1). While other nations will have places in the kingdom, believers in Israel will hold special positions.
The Lord promises perfect (genuine, complete) peace to those who trust Him – now, as well as in the Millennium (v. 3). The apostle Paul reminds us of this great truth in Phil. 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck write, “This availability of inner tranquility encourages believers to continue trusting the Lord (Isa. 26:4) because He is firm like a Rock … and He is eternal” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1074). For other Scriptures that describe the Lord as a Rock, see Ps. 73:26 (“strength” literally means rock); Isa. 17:10, 30:29, and 44:8.
“The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. ‘What is your peace?’ is the way Jews often greet one another; and Isaiah’s reply would be, ‘My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in Him!’ Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6-9 is based on Isaiah 26:3″ (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).
In contrast with the righteous who enter the city are the arrogant who “live in lofty places” (v. 5); the Lord will bring them down. Those who used their wealth and privilege to oppress the poor will be on the business end of God’s rod of justice. This does not mean that poverty itself is a virtue. Isaiah simply repeats an oft-repeated message that God has special concern for the poor who seek Him (Isa. 25:4; Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18).
The Long Night of Waiting (Isa. 26:7-18)
Isaiah describes a level and straight path for the righteous, cleared by God Himself. “In the Yukon of old, one man was often sent ahead to ‘break trail’ for others or a dog sled. This passage reminds us that a righteous God has already broken trail for those who follow Him because they are committed to righteousness too” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 424). As a result, God’s redeemed “wait” for Him, “desire” His name and renown, “long” for Him in the night, and diligently “seek” Him in order to “learn righteousness” (vv. 8-9). What a dramatic change occurs in the hearts of men and women when they learn to trust God above all else.
The struggles of Judah returning to God are like the pains of childbirth. Isaiah writes that the nation is writhing in anguish beneath the punishing hand of God. Like a pregnant woman giving birth to wind, Judah experiences emptiness and defeat through its sinful acts. The Hebrew verb in verse 13 translated “ruled over” gives us the noun baal, the Canaanite storm god whose worship caused so much trouble in Israel. But the word also means “husband,” so the message is that God’s people were not faithful to Him, preferring to pursue their lust for idols. The same image is given in James 4:4: “Adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” Even so, the Lord graciously carries His people through and keeps His covenant. For other comparisons of spiritual struggle to childbirth, see Isa. 13:8, 42:14; John 16:21; Gal. 4:19.
Isaiah’s comment about the dead tyrants who have troubled Judah (v. 14) do not contradict the doctrine of universal resurrection supplied in verse 19 and elsewhere in Scripture (see, for example, Job 19:25-27; Ps. 17:15; Dan. 12:1-3; John 5:28-29, 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 20:11-15). The prophet simply is emphasizing that the rulers who wrought so much terror and destruction on God’s people can no longer do them harm. Lawrence O. Richards comments in The Bible Readers Companion: “Storms of judgment may sweep over our earth. Wars may devastate, and disease may ravage. Famines may decimate the land, while starvation stalks our families. There are indeed dread fates that are to be feared. But these are not history’s last words! At the end of history – both the history of nations and the personal history of each individual – the shout of God’s promise echoes. ‘Your dead will live; their bodies will rise!’ What a truth to hold fast in troubled times” (S. 424).
Resurrection and Judgment (Isa. 26:19-21)
This is a most revealing Old Testament passage on future resurrection and judgment. While these verses focus on the resurrection of the just – the “first resurrection” of which John wrote in Rev. 20:5-6 – Daniel adds that the unjust also will be raised and that all people will experience eternal life or eternal shame (Dan. 12:2). What a comfort these words are to those experiencing warfare, captivity, injustice, and even death. The promise that God will raise all people one day and pronounce final judgment with absolute justice should spur fear in the hearts of the wicked as it does hope in the hearts of the righteous.
Although views differ on the order of events, the New Testament clearly teaches future resurrection and final judgment for all people:
- Jesus often speaks of His return and final judgment. For example, in John 5:28-29 He says all people will be raised from the dead and experience either everlasting life or condemnation.
- The apostle Paul writes in detail about the rapture (“catching up” / “snatching away”) of the church in 1 Cor. 15:50-58 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18, as well as judgment and reward for all believers (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).
- The apostle John refers several times to resurrection and final judgment in the book of Revelation. He alludes to the rapture by not mentioning the church from Rev. 4-18, chapters depicting the tribulation. He also speaks of the “first resurrection,” or resurrection of the just, in Rev. 20:5-6. And he writes in some detail about the raising of the wicked to stand before the great white throne, from which they are cast into hell (Rev. 20:11-15).
Verse 20 urges God’s people to “hide for a little while until the wrath has passed.” “When God is about to take vengeance on the ungodly, the saints shall be shut in by Him in a place of safety, as Noah and his family were in the days of the flood (Ge 7:16), and as Israel was commanded not to go out of doors on the night of the slaying of the Egyptian first-born (Ex 12:22, 23; Ps 31:20; 83:3). The saints are calmly and confidently to await the issue (Ex 14:13, 14)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 26:20).
Finally, verse 21 gives Judah the assurance that God will deal with her oppressors – Assyria in the near term and Babylon in the long term. Even more, this verse previews the glorious appearing of the Messiah one day to execute judgment upon the earth’s wicked (see Rev. 19:11-21).
Commenting on the phrase in verse 21, “The earth will reveal the blood shed on it and will no longer conceal her slain,” Matthew Henry writes: “Secret murders, and other secret wickednesses, shall be discovered, sooner or later. And the slain which the earth has long covered she shall no longer cover, but they shall be produced as evidence against the murderers. The voice of Abel’s blood cries from the earth, Gen. 9:10, 11; Job 20:27. Those sins which seemed to be buried in oblivion will be called to mind, and called over again, when the day of reckoning comes. Let God’s people therefore wait awhile with patience, for behold the Judge stands before the door” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 26:20).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips