“And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4, NIV).
The litmus test by which we classify our interpretation of Revelation is how we interpret Revelation 20:1-10., which highlights the thousand-year (millennial) reign of Christ. Our interpretation of the whole book seems to depend on when the millennium occurs in our end-time chronology.
Premillennial, amillennial or postmillennial are the eschatological labels some evangelical institutions and individuals use to define themselves or their eschatological belief system. The three terms come from the word millennium, meaning a period of a thousand years. Pre- and postmillennialism divide over the question of whether the second coming of Christ will take place before or after the thousand years mentioned repeatedly in these verses.
In the premillennial, literal view the Second Coming occurs at the end of Chapter 19 when the rider on the white horse comes with his armies and destroys the forces of evil and the thousand years follow at the beginning of Chapter 20. Postmillennialism maintains that what comes in Chapter 19 is not Jesus literally, but rather the triumph of the witness and testimony of Jesus in the world. Amillennialism maintains that John’s thousand-year reign of Christ is just another name for the age in which we now live and in which Jesus reigns as Lord by virtue of his resurrection and ascension. According to amillenialism Christ will return at the end of the present age. Postmillennialism is a variation of the amillennial view or vice versa.
When I attended seminary many years ago, we young theologians would often become overwhelmed with the different eschatological views and which one we should adopt. There’s an old seminary joke that if you don’t know what kind of millenialism to follow, you can always be a pan-millenialist, believing everything will just “pan out” in the end.
While biblical eschatology, the study of the final events of history, can seem complex and complicated, Revelation is still a book of the Bible all Christians should embrace. It assures us that in God’s plan for humanity everything will indeed pan out. So, the best approach to interpreting Revelation is to read it simply as John’s vision rather than try to apply a chronology of how the world is actually going to end (although I don’t necessarily disagree with those that do).
Revelation 20 focuses on the beginning of Jesus’ reign on the earth and the great white throne judgment when all people are judged and sentenced to their eternal destiny. While the millenial reign of Jesus gets the most attention, I find the most hope and encouragement in the final verses of this chapter in its description of the great white throne judgement.
What’s distinctive to me about the great white throne judgement is that not one but two books are opened and referenced for judgement purposes. One book seems to be a record of all that we ever did during our life on Earth. The other book is the book of life and seems to be a list of all those who have believed in and accepted Christ’s rule over their lives while on Earth.
When each of us goes on trial before God at the great white throne judgement, the book with the record of our lives will reveal that we stand guilty before God and are unworthy of eternal life with Him. Fortunately, the book of life provides an additional reference point that sets aside the guilty verdict for believers in Christ.
Thank you, Jesus!
Jesus explained earlier in Revelation in the letter to the Church at Sardis that He advocates–conceivably at the great white throne judgement–for those whose names are listed in the book of life: “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:4-5, NIV).
And, Revelation 21 reaffirms that when God comes down from heaven to live among His people “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (vs. 27) will enter the New Jerusalem.
So, if you haven’t yet figured out which school of millenialism you should uphold, you can still rest assured that if your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life, then everything will indeed pan out for you in the end.
Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.Luke 10:20 (NIV)