Why I No Longer Accept the Pre-millennial Interpretation of the Second Coming of Christ

David H. Linden, University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM USA,  April 2012



A Personal Perspective   Around 2008 when I first wrote this article, now enlarged, I had no memory of ever writing on this subject before. Except for recent Bible studies in the Book of Revelation, I have said very little about the millennium. Most of this paper is related to the Book of Revelation. I wrote it to show that interpreting Revelation 20 depends on much that appears in previous chapters of the book. Other Scriptures affect this issue as well, but it is not my intention now to write a larger paper. My classes will receive from me, Lord willing, a paper titled “A Studies in Revelation 20”. This is not that lesson. I have been constrained by the Lord to preach more on the Second Coming of Christ. In my opinion, the entire church needs to have before it constantly that the world we know is coming to an end. The world as we know it will end in an act of divine violence, justice, and judgment executed, but for His own it will be a joyful reunion, vindication, and the pleasure of the new creation. Revelation is not alone in holding our attention to both the kindness and fury of the sudden appearance of the Lord to rescue and punish. Note how the Apostle Paul joins these opposite features of the Second Coming together, and note that it is in one event:


...  Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, ESV).


Many brothers teach that the coming of the Lord happens in stages, thus judgment on the wicked, as in Matthew 25, in their view does not occur when Christ comes for His own (what some refer to as a secret rapture). That Paul just said in 2 Thessalonians 1 that these two elements would appear in one event frequently passes without serious notice.


I have wanted not to write this for reasons of affection and respect for many who have taught me in the past. I graduated from a Bible Institute and a Bible College where all of my teachers held to a pre-millennial interpretation of God’s Word. The Presbyterian seminary where I studied and graduated had a number of faculty members of similar viewpoint. I am not only grateful to them all, but indebted. That applies to all three schools. When I graduated from seminary (Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO) I was still convinced of pre-millennialism. Maybe I should also add that I do not know of one relative who would agree with my paper. Some of them would be dismayed.


The matter is far broader than personal. During the twentieth century, dispensational thinking gained such an influence that numerous missions, Bible schools, and fledgling fellowships of churches included a premillennial doctrinal statement as an important affirmation of truth. It went beyond that. It even became a requirement for membership and for a working relationship. The Lord has been merciful. There is now less tension over teaching on the “end times” than in previous generations.  Sadly, for some lately it has become a mark of spirituality to avoid the subject entirely. I suppose this is so because many feel that it is Christian courtesy to avoid disagreement. It is never wise to avoid any subject Scripture emphasizes. We are obligated to accept whatever Revelation 20 is telling us.  


The Battle in Revelation 20:7-10   When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth Gog and Magog – to gather them for [the] battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”


Does this battle, which follows the 1000 years of Revelation 20:1-6 coincide with the coming of the Lord in Revelation 19? It is very important to settle whether the events in Revelation 20 occur after the events in chapter 19. In other words, is the Gog/Magog battle in chapter 20 another reference to the same battle in chapter 19? If all the events of chapter 20 come afterwards, the pre-millennial view must be correct, but if chapter 20 actually refers to the same battle, then the pre-millennial position becomes difficult to maintain. I believe the text leads us to conclude that this battle is one event happening at the Second Coming. It is pictured first in Revelation 19 with detail and perspective added in chapter 20.


The Battle is One Battle   Revelation 20 is not detached from what precedes it. The context is that the nations gather for the battle (20:8). It does not speak of this battle without using the definite article “the”. This leads us to think that this battle is the one identified in chapter 19. Then we note that chapter 19 also speaks of the battle referring to some previous context. This is so; it refers to the one anticipated in chapter 16. These three texts all speak of one event.


  1. Chapter 16: The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty (16:12-14, NIV).


  1. Chapter 19: Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war [Greek: to make the battle] against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh (Revelation 19:17-21, ESV).


  1. Chapter 20: And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle [Greek: for the battle]; their number is like the sand of the sea (Revelation 20:7,8, ESV).


“The Great Day of God” is One Day    We should not expect that “the great day of God the Almighty” (16:14) is one of a number of events with other great days to follow. How would Revelation indicate that there is a coming ultimate day? “The battle on the great day” indicates that the final conflict does not occur in stages. One cannot have the end followed by another end.


The kings are gathered by three evil spirits. The demonic spirits come from the mouth of each of the evil three. Each deceiving spirit gathers the kings of earth for the same battle on the same day, the battle on the great day of God Almighty. In 19:19 this battle, is again the topic. (The Greek noun may be translated as battle or war.) The kings of the earth, their armies (19:19), and all men small and great  (19:18) have now been gathered. Only the beast and the false prophet are mentioned in chapter 19. But in 16:13,14 a spirit from the dragon was also active in calling kings to this battle. Revelation 20 will fill in the rest of the story with Satan gathering nations for this battle. A number of translations do not report the battle each time as the battle or the war, yet the definite article in Greek is present in all three texts: 16:14; 19:19; 20:8. It would help if that were reflected in translation.


Revelation 19 is widely accepted among evangelicals as the Second Coming of Christ in power and great glory, though some pose a secret rapture earlier. All interpretations take on an “either/or” decisiveness at this juncture. If the battle of Revelation 20:7-10 is the battle of Revelation 19, then the single Second Coming is the time of both. That means that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 precedes the Second Coming of Christ. If that is so, the premillennial interpretation is simply wrong. 


The Devil in a Later Narrative   Someone may ask, “If it is one battle/one event, with the armies gathered by the demonic emissaries of all three, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet – then why would Revelation 19 & 20 not speak of one battle in one passage?” To strengthen that question into a full-blown objection, it could be stated this way:


First, at the Second Coming the Lord threw the beast and the false prophet into the lake of fire, but there is no mention of judgment on the devil until after the 1000 years. At the end of the millennium he is let loose, defeated, and cast into the lake of fire. Why do you not accept the clear chronology of Revelation 19 & 20?


That is a very reasonable challenge, affected by one view of how Revelation 19 & 20 should be read. My response to this challenge:


a)      The Ancient Adversary   It is not odd that the devil should be the distinct focus of a later narrative. Neither the beast nor the false prophet is the original adversary of the Lord. They do not share with the devil the same history. Neither was thrown out of heaven in chapter 12. Likewise, back in the Garden of Eden there was no beast; there was no false prophet. It is fitting that Scripture’s record of rebellion in God’s creation should open and close with the arch-enemy himself.

b)      Scriptures Unique to Satan   Things said only of Satan in the Gospels are related to Revelation 20, such as his fall (Luke 10:18) and his binding (Matthew 12:28,29). By extrapolating in 20 on the narrative of chapter 19, Revelation links to matters unique to Satan. It provides closure to focus on the Master Originator of all sin, showing his final futile fit of Christ-hating passion. Just as Revelation 12 was a record of repeated frustration for him, after his short fling he is brought to his final end. The Lord has chosen to present that to us by focusing on the master deceiver and his last deception. If Revelation had reported the demise of all three together, its attention to the chief enemy would have been diluted. The Lord chose not to do that. By finalizing the narrative of the minor players in Revelation 19, attention is drawn to the remaining monster, the dragon himself, in chapter 20.

c)      Expected Structure   We have learned in Revelation to take structure seriously. The arrangement of its material is deliberate. The beast is first mentioned in one sentence (11:7). Sustained attention to the dragon, the beast and the false prophet comes later. The devil is central to the narrative of chapter 12. Neither the beast not the false prophet are mentioned there. Then in 13, attention is directed to the beast and the false prophet. This order affects Revelation 19 & 20. The order is reversed, so that the beast and false prophet are dealt with in 19, and the devil meets his fate in chapter 20. This is the very common ABBA pattern of Jewish literature of that time. If the evil three can be introduced in the way they were, with the dragon appearing separately, Revelation can finish with them the way it introduced them. What interpreters should not assume is that separate mentions of “the battle” in 19 & 20 means that there is more than one final conflict. And further, they should not assume that any report of the Second Coming ought to mention all three opponents together.

d)      Transitional Expression   The way Revelation 20 begins should not be overlooked. V.1 says, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven …” The premillennial view assumes that one moves from chapter 19 into 20 in an uninterrupted narrative as if those words were not there. In other words, they see an unbroken sequence of events right through to the end of chapter 20. In the pre-millennial view the defeat of the beast and false prophet will be followed by the string of events in 20. That is not supported by “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven,” because such wording actually indicates a break in the narrative. In 10:1 we have very similar wording of “I saw” plus an angel coming down. The wording of 10:1 does not continue the narrative of chapter 9.

e)      Sequential vs. Not Sequential   Chapter 20 backs up to review Satan’s grip on the nations and the Lord’s frustration of him. It steps back in time. We cannot assume that everything in it is sequential, because throughout the book it repeatedly returns to the Second Coming of Christ. For example, the Judgment Day is the Coming of the Lord in chapter 19, but the Judgment Day is the chief topic of all of chapter 16. That same day was also before us in 6:12-17, which has “the great day of their wrath”. This is not a different day from what 16:14 calls “the great day of God the Almighty”. So by inserting an angel coming down in 20:1, the break in the narrative allows for some background about Satan. Certainty that 20 continues a chronology begun in 19 is mistaken. That assumption needs reconsideration. The view that the 1000 years follow the Second Coming needs more support.


Here is the sequence of the devil’s activity drawn from Revelation 20. In this chapter Revelation steps back to review the big picture. The background begins with the devil’s declining opportunity to strike at the Kingdom of Christ. The flow of chapter 20 is back to that great battle first reported in 16:13,14, then in 20:7-10 it reconnects with the judgment by Christ in chapter 19. The order is:


  1. Satan had a long reign of deception with the nations in his grip. This ceased with the first Coming of Christ. This marks a major change; Satan can no longer do something he did before.
  2. Since then he has had a long period of frustration, represented as being bound for 1000 years. He is kept from deceiving entire peoples the way he could earlier. His frustration is a major theme in chapter 12. During this time the gospel spreads bringing salvation to all peoples on earth. (More on this below)
  3. Satan will be released for a “short time” at the end of the 1000 years. He unites what is left to him, deceiving the entire world again. He unleashes an all-out campaign against the saints. This he does through the beast and false prophet in chapter 13.
  4. In “the battle on the great day of God Almighty” he will be defeated. This battle follows Satan’s release and a brief period of unhindered deception. He will muster the nations to attack God’s people, resulting in fire from heaven and the lake of fire for him and his. This is his last opportunity to strike at Christ by attacking those who are the Lord’s. Satan knows his doom, but his passionate hatred of Christ is such that he cannot contain himself, and so he musters all he can in all the world in one last desperate attack. To this climax of evil our Lord responds with His climax of final judgment, removing him and all evil from God’s world forever.


Revelation 20 moves through all four stages: 1.) deceived nations initially (20:3); 2.) a powerful limitation of his previous deception (20:1-3);  3.) a release to deceive again (20:3); and 4.) Satan’s ultimate defeat and punishment (20:7-10). Stage 1 is already past history, and stage 2 is the current activity of the Lord in our day. Stages 3 & 4 will happen in a brief space of time.[1] Revelation 20 is the last thing we read before the Bible gives us the eternal state. Similar to the scope of chapter 12, it ranges from the fall to the final judgment. It is valuable to have such a summary at this location in Revelation.


The Wrath of God Completed   It would not be twisting the Scripture to say of the terrible clash in Revelation 20 that the wrath of God was completed in 20. Obviously the wrath of God cannot be completed before casting the devil into the lake of fire accompanied by the finality of the Great White Throne judgment. Before the angels poured out the seven bowls John said, I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues – last, because with them God's wrath is completed (Revelation 15:1, NIV).


Teachers, who affirm the premillennial order of events, never (to my knowledge) view the seven bowls as having reference to anything after Revelation 19. (How could they?) This becomes another difficulty for them, because the seven bowls complete the wrath of God, and those “bowls of wrath” (16:1) do not extend past the Second Coming and (using their chronology for a moment) on through another 1000 years to complete God’s wrath on Satan. If the devouring fire of Revelation 20:9 is 1000 years after the Lord’s Coming then that moment becomes the completion of the wrath of God. We must allow other parts of Revelation to affect our interpretation of  chapter 20. The simple solution is that the outpouring of the seven bowls is fulfilled in the Second Coming in Revelation 19, therefore, it cannot have another completion 1000 years later. I think this is something in Revelation which has been overlooked by many teachers. The wrath of God may appear many times, but it is not finalized over and over.


Then, lest we miss it, at the seventh and last bowl a voice from the throne says, “It is done!” (16:17). These statements converge: 1) the seven bowls complete God’s wrath (15:1), and 2) at the seventh bowl it is done. The pre-millennial position, however, requires a thousand years between the “it is done” of 16:17 and the “it is done” of 21:6. But if the judgment of the Second Coming ushers in the eternal state of chapters 21 & 22, with no interval between, then we do not have to separate one it is done from the other, and the completion of wrath then does come with the seven bowls. We were told earlier in Revelation that “there would be no more delay,” but the time of the seventh trumpet would be the time when “the mystery of God would be fulfilled” (10:6,7). Revelation makes the coming of the Lord to be the conclusion of our history. God’s judgment will not be dragged out in a series of one final judgment after another final judgment.


Recapitulation Is the Explanation  It is held by pre-millennial teachers that Revelation 19 is narrative followed in chapter 20 by things which happen only later in time. I am saying that Revelation 20 comes back to the one battle/final judgment reported in chapter 19. It is recapitulation, a going over the event again from a different angle. Recapitulation is not foreign to Revelation; it is, in fact, typical of it. The fall of Babylon is an example to track, one with no significant controversy attached to it among evangelicals.


The Large Example of Recapitulation in the Judgment of Babylon   This is a recurring theme appearing in a number of visions. In 14:8 an angel says, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great...” That is stated in the past tense, but Babylon’s fall will be reviewed in much detail in chapters 17-19. Babylon does not fall more than once. In Revelation 16:19, as part of the seventh bowl, God gave Babylon the cup of His wrath. This is in the context of God’s announcement “It is done!” (16:17). The “it is done” refers explicitly to the fall of Babylon. In chapter 17, which is not part of the seven bowls, John is carried in the Spirit into the desert; there Babylon is the harlot on the beast. Within chapter 17 she is destroyed (17:16). Then in Revelation 18, following Babylon’s demise in the teeth of the beast,we have another picture of her judgment: Babylon is consumed by fire from God (18:8), and her smoke rises forever (19:3). Her end is like a millstone taking her to the bottom of the sea (18:21).


Anyone can see how different the following images are, and most realize (I hope) that that does not make them different events!” The visions vary with Babylon destroyed by God on one hand and by the beast on the other, yet the multiple images are of one thing – the fall of Babylon. Babylon does not fall repeatedly.



·                    Babylon has fallen, a simple announcement in 14:8;

·                    Babylon drinks the cup of wrath from God; Babylon does the drinking (16:19).

·                    But then she is consumed by the beast; Babylon is the one eaten (17:16);

·                    Then Babylon is destroyed by fire (18:8,9). 


Recapitulation is the key.  The words which open Revelation 20,And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven are virtually identical to Revelation 18:1 “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven.” In Revelation 18, it takes another look at what is mentioned in 17, but the topic which follows 18:1 is not something that happens later than the events of chapter 17. Surely the death of the woman (Babylon) in 17:16 is not a different event from the judgment on Babylon addressed throughout chapter 18. In fact, 18:8 says, “she will be burned up with fire”. The premillennial argument is that Revelation 20 continues a narrative sequence in which the 1000 years follow the Second Coming reported in chapter 19. They do not see this as recapitulation. If it is a sequence with events occurring later than the events of 19 – if that is so, premillennialists should not build their case on the opening words of chapter 20. If Revelation 18, using the same introductory words, can bring up the same event as chapter 17, Revelation 20 can do the same when it adds more detail to the battle found in chapter 19.  


Babylon will not be destroyed again and again. Revelation simply repeats the end of Babylon through a variety of images. In the case of very important things, Revelation recapitulates. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to consider that the battle is the one battle in mind in Revelation 16, 19, & 20. Note too that the different visions may even appear to be incompatible. The imagery does not need to be consistent. For example, was it God’s wrath or the beast’s hostility that destroyed Babylon? It was both. The final judgment can be with the sword or by being crushed in a winepress (19:15). The metaphors are mixed. When we read of fire coming down from heaven (20:9), this is one more image of that last battle. This kind of variation is typical of Revelation. So we conclude that by turning the page to Revelation 20, after we have read of the Second Coming in chapter 19, we have not necessarily turned to a new event.


A Large Mistake Often Repeated   We are all trying to come to grips with how to understand all that Revelation is saying. It certainly is a unique way to communicate truth. This is the challenge to us of apocalyptic. It was familiar to those hearing Revelation when John’s large letter showed up in seven churches. Familiar with apocalyptic, they could sit back and imagine what John was reporting. Often it is “then I saw”, “then I saw”. That is an obvious sequence. It is a sequence of seeing or receiving more and more by John. This has often been taken to mean that what was seen is in sequence, but the sequence of revealing visions is not identical to the sequence within the things reported. Not every soul will understand my paragraph, but I can only say that a little slippage of the mind at this point leads to a large misunderstanding. A sequence of reports need not establish a sequence in the things reported.


Maybe an illustration will help. A history teacher in high school is teaching about the Second world War in the Pacific and in Europe. Maybe she is an American, and so she begins with Pearl Harbor. America’s most strenuous efforts were to defeat Germany, therefore the teacher decided to lecture next on the invasion of N. Africa, Sicily, and eventually into France on the way to the collapse of Germany. Meanwhile there was a longer and different struggle with Japan culminating in two atom bombs. It is not difficult to see that the order in which she teaches events need not be identical with the order of the events themselves. A student could go home and say “then she said”, “then she said” but that would relay merely the order of her lectures, not the chronological order of the war. Many astute and honest interpreters of the Bible stumble here. The assumption that Revelation 20:1, with “Then I saw an angel…”, asserts later events is a mistaken assumption. Premillennial scholars would never do this with words in18:1 which are virtually the same. When premillennialists seek to show that what is communicated in the words which follow 20:1 are later than chapter 19 for different reasons, then we should consider those reasons. But their argument from the opening of 20:1 confuses the order of seeing with the order of the things seen. In that high school classroom, there was no confusion of the sequence of Germany’s surrender in May 1945 with the Battle of Midway with Japan in 1942, even if that was the order in which these events were taught.


Gog and Magog   Another difficulty for the premillennial position is that both Revelation 19 and 20 refer to the prophecy of Ezekiel about Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38,39). Though Revelation 19 does not use the word “Gog” (the leader) or “Magog” (the land), the correspondence of Revelation 19 with this Ezekiel passage is obvious. Revelation 20 will name Gog and Magog. Here are texts to review. My comments will follow.



Ezekiel 38   "Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal (Ezekiel 38:2,3).


Ezekiel 39   You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured (Ezekiel 39:4).    

"As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field, 'Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth--of rams, of lambs, and of he-goats, of bulls, all of them fat beasts of Bashan (Ezekiel 39:17,18).


Revelation 19   Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army (Revelation 19:17-19).


Revelation 20   And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for [Greek, add “the”] battle; their number is like the sand of the sea (Revelation 20:7,8).



Both Revelation 19 and 20 view the battle they report as an event predicted in Ezekiel 38,39. This should really make one sit up and wonder whether there is one fulfillment (my view) or two (the premillennial view). Within these two chapters of Ezekiel we find the following: In the distant future (38:8) a prince named Gog, plus an alliance of many Gentile powers from all directions, will invade Israel to attack the people of God. These hordes will face God’s blazing wrath, making all people on earth quake in fear. The divine judgment is upon all nations and upon those far from Israel in distant coastlands supposedly safe (39:6). To deepen the linkage with both Revelation 19 & 20, this universal judgment includes fire and brimstone. (Or fire and sulfur; see Ezekiel 38:22). The other notable feature in this judgment is that the fallen attackers will be fed to the birds, which will gorge themselves on the fallen horde. A call to the birds goes out from God to come to this feast. One gets the impression that this battle will happen but once. The nations under Gog’s leadership will not reappear after being eaten by vultures, burned in God’s fire, and buried over a period of months with all the people of Israel locating bodies and burning weapons. Revelation 19/20 are a fulfillment of this prophecy.


This battle is unique. Here is a broad combination of distant nations meeting their end. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, those under God’s fire and brimstone never rise to oppose the Lord again. So, shall we suppose that the Gog/Magog battle in Revelation 19 reappears in the future to happen a second time in Revelation 20 one thousand years later, as premillennialists would have it? I think we should reject such a strained interpretation.  But there is more. In Ezekiel 39:8, the Lord says of this great onslaught by the nations, “That is the day of which I have spoken.” That singular day of a singular battle has a singular fulfillment reported in both Revelation 19 and 20. The individual named Gog does not rise to attack again. That day does not happen twice, as our premillennial brothers teach.


Teachers holding to one battle vs. two have debated whether the version in chapter 19 includes all unbelievers on the earth. If it does, and I hold that it does, then Revelation 19:11-21 is the final battle. Therefore there would be no one left on earth to participate in any subsequent assault against the people of God, which we read about in Revelation 20:7-10. If Revelation 19 is the final battle with no one remaining to rebel, then there is no one for Satan to deceive. If chapter 20 predicts a different battle (the pre-mill position), it faces this difficulty that no one is available to join Satan in his last assault on the people of God (Revelation 20:7,8). At His coming the Lord will strike down all sinners (19:15), so there will be none left to rebel. And that means there can only be one final battle, the one predicted in Ezekiel, reported twice in Revelation, but occurring once in history. We cannot miss that the battle in chapter 20:7-9 comes after the 1000 years in 20:1-6. If the last battle comes only at the Second Coming, then the Second Coming must be after the 1000 years, not before. Naturally those holding to pre-millennialism see that their position would cave in if the judgment in chapter 19 is the ultimate one, with no additional battle to come later. Their difficulty is increased by the following:


1) Both Revelation 19 & 20 refer to the prediction in Ezekiel 38,39.  

2) In Ezekiel 38,39 the divine judgment is not localized to the invading forces. It includes those living in safety far from the battle scene (Ezekiel 39:6).  

3) For their position to hold up, the battle in Ezekiel 38, 39 would need to be repeated. It must occur twice. That is a far-fetched idea. Surely the individual named “Gog” can only die once. Nothing in Ezekiel lends support for the idea of this predicted event being repeated or fulfilled twice.  

4) The earlier use of everyone, slave and free in Revelation 6:15 is clearly a reference to the final judgment upon all the wicked in the entire earth. Likewise, such language appearing again in 19:13 refers to all humanity. When chapter 6 speaks this way of the final judgment, it prepares us to expect the same meaning in chapter 19.


Who Remains Available to Rebel?   The pre-millennial position needs for some unsaved people to be present in the millennial kingdom, so there would be someone there for Satan to stir up in the final rebellion. It is very difficult to find human rebels if they were all judged at the Second Coming.  


In my opinion, creating a plausible scenario which allows for the existence of sinners in a post Second Coming millennium is quite a problem. If all of Revelation 20 comes after the Second Coming, it is essential to have some explanation for how rebels are still present on earth after the Second Coming. One cannot have a rebellion without rebels. Pre-mills admit that this evil cannot come from unbelieving humans alive when the Lord comes in judgment (Revelation 19). That group will be slain and sent to hell. Of course, the rebellion cannot arise among believers, for all have been glorified at the appearance of Christ. We sin no more. As the premillennial viewpoint goes, only believers enter the 1000 year reign, so the wicked can only be, and must be from among those born to them. John MacArthur says, “… Satan will find fertile soil in which to sow his seeds of rebellion. Many unsaved descendants of those who entered the millennial kingdom in their physical bodies (all of whom will be redeemed) will love their sin and reject Christ.” [2] He says on the next page that Satan’s method of deception will dupe the unregenerate of the world into revolting against the Lord Jesus Christ. 


I object among other reasons that this doctrine renders the righteous rule of Christ ineffective. (MacArthur would never say such a thing!)  Ruling the nations with a rod of iron (19:15) does not make room for a worldwide rebellion to get going. Further, it allows for marriage and child-bearing to continue when the Lord taught us that in the coming resurrection this would cease. I look upon our brother’s argument as a desperate conjecture to shore up a position with insurmountable problems within it. All our pre-mill brothers know that the Lord said, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). I hope they will not say that Jesus only said they will not marry, and that He did not say they would no longer have children! I fear they might say that this hypothesis only applies to those who have not experienced a physical resurrection. At the Second Coming when the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ appears, this surely does not allow for the continued existence of sin within the kingdom of Christ after “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” (11:15). At the Second Coming “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:19). This hypothesis is riddled with deficiency. The more practical, less bizarre, less strained would be to give up this odd hypothesis. Nothing in Scripture even hints at it. Giving it up would be very difficult, for they would need to let go of pre-millennialism. [3]


A Summary:  In Revelation 19, Christ comes riding a white horse, trampling the winepress of God’s wrath. The feast for the birds comes when the Rider on the horse (Christ) makes the war against the kings of the earth. He captures the beast and false prophet and dispatches them to the lake of fire and brimstone. In Revelation 20, the aggressor nations under Satan come from the four corners of the earth in fulfillment of the Gog/Magog prophesy (Ezekiel 38,39). They and Satan meet their fate from God in the lake of fire and brimstone. Thus Revelation 20:7-10 presents the Second Coming of Christ – there is only one – as occurring after the 1000 years, not before.  The premillennial position is in deep trouble in Revelation 20, though that chapter is perhaps its chief text.



Other Pertinent Scriptures which Relate to Revelation 20



1.)  The Binding of Satan   Satan is bound throughout this present time (Matthew 12:25-29). He is unable to stop the advance of the gospel in any nation and culture. Nothing can stop the massive growth of the church, as we see in the two parables in Matthew 13:31-33. Satan is exceedingly frustrated. With precise reference to the time of His crucifixion, the Lord Jesus said,Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31,32). Therefore it is a major blunder to say that the defeated foe is “alive and well on planet earth”. The truth is that the devil has been disarmed (Colossians 2:15). His head was crushed at the cross when Satan bruised the heel of Christ (Genesis 3:15). The Lamb has already triumphed. Though He was slain, He is alive forevermore, and He has ransomed a people for God from every nation (Revelation 5:5-10). The full liberating effect of this ransom cannot be prevented by the devil. The Lord Jesus loses to Satan not even one of those the Father has given Him to save and keep (John 6:38-40). Satan’s loss of former captives (2 Timothy 2:26) in his crumbling empire eventually adds up to a multitude no man can number (Revelation 7:9). It is a great pity that this doctrine of the victory of Christ, and the utter weakness of Satan to prevent it, does not receive the attention it deserves, and which we need to give. Satan is unable to deceive the nations the way he once did. This truth is well-established outside the Book of Revelation. Revelation 20 does not say that the devil cannot do anything. It does present his severe limitation as being shut up, sealed in a prison so that he might not deceive the nations any longer. His weakness is such that he pictured as being locked up in a pit. Satan cannot do now what he would dearly love to do; he cannot rally the nations in a killing orgy against the people of God. In that sense he is completely frustrated. The unleashing of Satan does happen in 20:7-10, described in 12:12, “Woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” That should help us understand the Great Tribulation. Meanwhile, Revelation 2 & 3 draws attention to his current activity: his deceit in Thyatira (2:24), his presence in Pergamum connected to the death of Antipas (2:13), and his harassment in 3:9. Chapter 12 is a record of one frustration after another for Satan. At the end of this age, he has a brief moment of apparent victory through his surrogates, the two beasts in chapter 13. In preparation for his last blow against our Lord, we have in 16:13,14 his successful effort to assemble the nations for the battle. He can do this because he has been “released for a little while” (20:3). He will have his moment, but it will be his ultimate defeat.    


2.) The Last Rebellion   There is another awkwardness for the premillennial view in Revelation 20. The pre-millennial teaching is that Christ and His resurrected saints will reign on earth from Jerusalem for one thousand years in a reign of peace, which upon Satan’s release ends with another battle. I reply that the time of Christ’s great appearing is the moment of destroying the destroyers of the earth (11:18). Surely Satan is one of the destroyers. Here is a description of that moment:


Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth"  (Revelation 11:15-18 ESV).


This time is the time for God’s wrath to come; it is the time for the dead to be judged, the time for his own to be rewarded, and the time for the destroyers to be destroyed. If we could see that everything happens when Christ returns, we would not be tangled up in abstruse chronologies that we cannot derive from the Bible without much assistance from brothers who design confusing chronologies which are not really there. This damages simple Bible reading.


This text of Revelation 11 above is one pre-mills place before the 1000 years. Their teaching also makes Christ’s permission of the nations incited by Satan to turn against Him in chapter 20, to happen after His Second Coming. This is a difficult idea to defend. 19:15 says that He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. With opposition against God wiped out in Revelation 19, where does Satan find any new opponents to rally against Christ? Yet the rebels are so numerous they are like the sand of the sea (20:8). In the years that I held the pre-millennial view, that anomaly puzzled me as rather contradictory. Here is what the pre-mill position includes: Under the rule of Christ, actively subduing sin (19:15), the nations of the world will respond to Satan’s deception. Those at the time of His coming who are not saved have already been trampled in the winepress of God’s wrath (14:18-20; 19:15). Then in spite of the Lord’s righteous rule on earth, pre-mills say that the nations of the world will gather to attack the city of God. Among a variety of other reasons, it is very difficult to reconcile that with Christ putting down the nations with a rod of iron. It is not a good idea to teach a doctrine of another rebellion of wicked people who are able to conspire and work together to attack, because the putting down of sin by Christ has been ineffective. Surely our brothers do not mean such a thing. This awkwardness is easily resolved by recognizing that Revelation 19/20 reports the same battle, and the destruction of the wicked happens once and completely at the Second Coming. There will be no later rebellion. There will be no sinners left on earth to rebel. All the wicked will be in the lake of fire.


That puts the 1000 years before the Lord’s return, and so it is a description (a very encouraging one) of the reigning role of those in this age who have already died in Christ, as they await their physical resurrection at the Second Coming. They are already blessed (20:6). The dead in Christ receive life in the Lord’s presence immediately upon their death. Thus we have the words of 14:13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on …their deeds follow them.”  Revelation 20 adds insight to their blessedness. These souls who had been beheaded (20:4)live, are seated on thrones, and rule with Christ as soon as they die! The persecuted Christians who were the first to read Revelation would find that this answers their anguish of heart concerning Brother Antipas.


3.) Thrones on earth    Nothing in chapter 20 puts these thrones on earth. Elsewhere in Revelation, thrones are uniformly located in heaven. (It is that way in Daniel 7 as well.) Further, nothing is said of reigning on earth in Revelation 20:1-10. Those who reign with Christ are said to be the souls of those who were beheaded. This pictures them as saints awaiting their resurrected bodies, and this places the time of the 1000 years in advance of their resurrection at the Second Coming. Thus the first resurrection of chapter 20 is not a physical resurrection. The plight and plea of those who have already died is a great concern in Revelation 6. The plea of those beheaded (stated to address the anxiety of those on earth) is not ignored. As Revelation progresses, God exercises His vengeance on those who murdered His people. This is coupled in chapter 7 with the immediate comforts from the Lord for those who have died. Now in Revelation 20 word of their wonderful welfare is expanded. They are not sitting on their hands doing nothing. They are sitting on thrones in the presence of Christ reigning with Him. A vast number have died in Christ already. We are cheered by such a picture of how the dead now live.  


4.) The Last Enemy    Note further that the last enemy to be defeated is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death is clearly defeated at the Second Coming. It seems to me that those who hold the premillennial view must say that after the defeat of the last enemy, death, there will be another defeat of another enemy 1000 years later. This drags out judgment on all sin. Sometimes pre-millennialism, by making the 1000 years still future, has to live with one end followed by another one.  


Many other texts are urged by brothers as fitting into these 1000 years. The pre-millennial position always views that as a future time. So they teach that prophecies of a glorious future find fulfillment only in the Lord’s coming, and we agree, but then they do not have in mind the eternal state but rather a future 1000 year interval. These prophecies cannot connect well with Revelation 20, because the scene in that chapter is not earth but heaven, not later but now. This obviously does not suit a future earthly reign. Then too, in Revelation 20 the persons pictured are simply souls. It sure appears that they are not in their resurrected bodies yet. There is no mention of Jerusalem; in fact no New Testament text ever speaks of a reign of Christ in Jerusalem. Many so called “millennial” texts have no obvious correspondence with the thrones in Revelation 20 and the souls of beheaded persons seated on them. The weaknesses of pre-millennialism are numerable. In my opinion, they are overwhelming. The all-out war between Satan and God over the lives of humans precedes the Second Coming but in great finality ends with it.


I end my little paper by urging upon you that the endurance and faithfulness Revelation calls for is what matters most (13:10), certainly more than having the chronology worked out. I do believe we are more Biblical to view the appearance of Christ as the one great event to end all rebellion, with none coming 1000 years later, and to begin for His beloved people the joy of living in His presence. To all who love His appearing but disagree with me, please do not worry; your allegiance to Christ is what matters most.   



David H. Linden  



If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen (1 Corinthians 16:22-24).

[1]   Stage 3 is presented in 2 Thessalonians as God sending strong delusion as the inescapable penalty of rejecting the gospel. “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2Thessalonians 2:9-12, NIV). Those who agree with Satan will have him and join him in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).



[2]   John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, ©2000), 240.

[3]   It is for me an unpleasant role to be in to disagree with Dr. MacArthur. I have a multitude of reasons to respect him. I choose to interact with his writings for many reasons. One is that he dodges no difficulty. He is forthright in stating his positions. He has the integrity to give up an argument popular among dispensationalists when he is not convinced of its legitimacy. In the future when I spell out differences with dispensationalists in eschatology, John MacArthur will be the chief advocate I prefer to interact with. May our Lord bless him and his far-reaching ministry.