Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reigning with Christ

In the NT, Revelation 20 is also metaphorical: Satan is bound and imprisoned but is free to pursue Christians; beheaded martyrs who are resurrected are in actual fact sinners becoming Christians; Christ’s thousand year reign is not a thousand years but is the Church age.
I’m going to treat this objection separately: 

i) To begin with, his objection is just plain lazy. Amils like Beale and Poythress correlate 20:4-5 with the intermediate state rather than regeneration. Moreover, that interpretation goes back at least as far as Warfield. 

Furthermore, there are exegetically serious defenses of the traditional New Birth interpretation. Cf. Pierre Prigent, Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John (Mohr Siebeck 2004), 556-57; 567-71. 

ii) One problem I have with dispensational hermeneutics is the ad hoc way they oscillate between literal and figurative interpretations. Take Rev 20:1-10. They pick it apart, arbitrarily reassigning some statements to the literal column and other statements to the figurative column. They think Satan is literally prevented from deceiving the nations. They think the 1000 years is literal. They think the sequence is literally chronological. 

However, they don’t think Satan is a literal dragon. They don’t think Satan is literally bound with a metal chain, or literally confined to the Netherworld. They take the timeframe literally, but reject the spatial framework. 

They don’t treat this scene or pericope as unified depiction. They don’t offer a consistent, holistic interpretation. 

Instead, they operate with preconceived rules of thumb like “interpret literally whenever possible” or “interpret literally unless there’s an editorial aside.” Instead of taking the passage as a whole, the way John put it together for the reader, they deconstruct it. They don’t immerse themselves in the pictorial world of Revelation. They don’t see it from within. 

BTW, here’s a commentary that gives a good overview of Revelation as a coherent, self-contained narrative: 

James L. Resseguie, The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary (Baker 2009). 

I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s a very good way of framing our interpretive approach to Revelation. 

iii) It should be unnecessary to point out that numerology is a significant feature of Revelation. 

iv) Apropos (iii), why did John seize on the number 1000? Why that figure? Why not 500 or 5000? One commentator has a helpful suggestion:

The sojourn in paradise of which Isa 65:22 announces the Messianic return is reputed to have lasted a little less than a thousand years. God had in fact warned Adam that he would die the day he ate of the forbidden fruit (Gen 2:17). It so happens that a day is like a thousand years for the Lord (Ps 90:4) and, in fact, Adam died at 930 years of age (Gen 5:5), thus before the end of the “day” of paradise.

To state that the Messianic kingdom would last a thousand years is to say, in symbolic language, that it restores the conditions of life in paradise that were interrupted by the fall. And such is, in fact, the work of Christ in the book of Revelation: his coming brings about the end of the power of the serpent of old (12:9) who can no longer seduce the nations as he did the first man (12:9; 20:3). That is why the fruit of the tree of life is offered to those who, with Christ, have overcome Satan (2:7; 22:14,19). Prigent, Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John, 558.
To elaborate on Prigent’s observation, although some of the fallen prediluvians lived into their 900s, every one of them died short of the 1000 year mark. That’s the cutoff, the outer limit, for life after the fall. 

Conversely, a millennial lifespan crosses the threshold. It signifies reclamation of the prelapsarian status quo ante. At the same time, this still leaves room for the final state. Paradise restored isn’t paradise secured. We haven’t quite reached the consummation in the Revelation narrative. 

What about Henebury’s complaint that according to amillennialism, “Satan is bound and imprisoned but is free to pursue Christians”? Here Prigent has another apt observation:

It remains for us to understand the symbolism that explains why the author had recourse to the figure of one thousand to describe the present time. This is, in my opinion, because he defines communion with Christ as the restoration of the fall.

Hippolytus responded by a series of arguments that can be summarized, without doing them injustice, as one single objection: the assertion of fulfillment is not true because we observe today that Satan is not in bounds! Without entering into a detailed discussion, I would like to point out the weakness of this line of reasoning:

1. Although an assertion many seem unbelievable to us, that does not mean ipso facto that the author of the book of Revelation made the same judgment!
2. This is all the more true insofar as the book of Revelation presents a revelation of the present time with the intention of making us understand the true meaning that lies beyond appearances! Ibid. 553-54.
Let’s elaborate on both points: 

i) It’s tempting for a modern reader (although he needn’t be modern) to subconsciously judge Rev 20:1-3 by what he takes to be obvious, and equate his impression with the viewpoint of the author. But much of what we take to be evident or self-evident can actually be quite provincial–a reflexive impression conditioned by our particular time and place. We need to put ourselves in the situation of John, and ask ourselves if he saw the world the same way we do, rather than assuming that must be the case. Perhaps, at the time John wrote, around the latter half of the 1C, it may not have been absurd, from his perspective, to say that Satan was already bound. 

ii) Which brings us to the next point: Revelation alternates between what’s happening on earth, and what’s happening behind-the scenes. Christians here below seem losing the battle. Evil forces seem to have the upper hand. Yet John peels back the veil. That earthbound viewpoint is juxtaposed against scenes of indivisible warfare, where losers in this world are victors in the next, while victors in this world are losers in the next. Appearances notwithstanding, Christians are winning the war, even if we seem to be losing the battle. 

It’s like a poor man who has a lottery ticket in his pocket with the winning number. The winner may not have been announced. Or he may not have heard who the winner was. But he still holds the winning ticket. 

Revelation plays on a deliberate tension between appearance and reality. And that’s a test of faith. To close our eyes to mere appearances, to superficial evidence, and open the eyes of faith to the saints above and the unseen future, where the enemy never had a chance. Where the enemy was doomed to fail in the long run. As Prigent also observes, on Rev 1:3:

We shall begin by taking note of the notion of necessity (what must happen), which we have already encountered in Dan 2:28: “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and who has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what must happen at the end of time”
This is an important doctrine for apocalyptic writers, both Jewish and Christian: God has conceived a plan from all eternity, and the most minute details of it must be accomplished. Ibid. 107.
What if Satan is actually bound, even if it looks to all the world like he is on the loose? And what if that’s because we’re staring in the wrong direction? What if we’ve unwittingly accepted Satan’s interpretation of events? Looking wherever he points? 

At ground level, seen at eyelevel, it may seem as though Satan is in control. But appearances are deceptive. Even Satan is deceived! Satan is a self-deceived deceiver. Despite appearances to the contrary, his victories are pyrrhic. In fact, his victories are a trap. Like at army that penetrates so far into enemy territory that its supply lines are easily cut. An invading force that finds itself surrounded by the enemy, with no escape. Unable to retrace its steps, to fight its way back. On a narrow trail, at the bottom of a canyon. Once the entrance and exit are blocked, rocks and arrows rain down.

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