How Revelation 19:20 Supports Historic Premillennialism

Is there a chronological progression that unfolds in the book of Revelation? Amillennialists basically say No, there’s an ongoing recapitulation, a retelling of the same story over and over. So they would say that the millennium is happening now, at the same time as Satan is pursuing his war on the church (described, for instance, in Revelation 13).

Does this do justice to the actual details of the texts in question? I don’t think so. Consider Revelation 19:20,

“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.”

What John says about the beast and the false prophet here is intended to identify the beast and the false prophet as the characters we know from Revelation 13:13–18. Let’s take it phrase by phrase:

Rev 19:20a, “And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs”
Rev 13:13a, 14a, “It [the false prophet] performs great signs . . . and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast”

Rev 19:20b, “by which he deceived”
Rev 13:14b, “it deceives those who dwell on earth”

Rev 19:20c, “those who had received the mark of the beast”
Rev 13:16–18, “…it causes all…to be marked on the right hand or the forehead…the mark…the name of the beast or the number of its name”

Rev 19:20d, “and those who worshiped its image”
Rev 13:14b, 15a, c, “telling them to make an image for the beast . . . allowed to give breath to the image . . . cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain”

John has piled up these phrases from Revelation 13 to identify the beast and the false prophet captured in Revelation 19:20. These phrases from Revelation 13 that are reused in 19:20 refer back to the persecution of Christians seen in chapter 13, and in my view, that persecution refers to the satanic persecution of Christians in all of church history. Jesus ascended into heaven in Revelation 12:5, Satan was cast out of heaven because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus (Rev 12:7–12), and he went off to make war on the woman and the rest of her seed, Christians (12:13–17).

Satan went about making war on Christians by summoning a fake christ from the sea in Revelation 13:1. God has a Lamb standing as though slain, Christ (Rev 5:6). Satan twists this with his knock-off many-headed beast that has a head that seemed to have a mortal wound, but the mortal wound was healed (13:1–3). Satan has faked the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus with his un-lamb-like beast. The world responds to Satan’s parody the way it should respond to Jesus–all but the elect worship Satan and his beast (13:4, 8). Then the beast uses his authority to kill Christians (13:7, 15).

Note that John expressly says that Satan, the beast, and the false prophet (the satanic parody of the holy Trinity, cf. Rev 16:13) deceive those who dwell on earth. In other words, they’re doing throughout church history what they’re not able to do during the millennium.

Jesus comes and puts a stop to that deception by casting the beast and the false prophet into the lake of fire in Revelation 19:20, and the angel puts the dragon, Satan, into the pit for a thousand years “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” in 20:1–3.

So it seems that John has referred back to the persecutions of Revelation 13 in Revelation 19:20 to show how all that has come to an end with the coming of Christ. Then Christ reigns for the thousand years in Revelation 20:1–6.

Some amillennialists think that the end of Satan’s ability to deceive in Revelation 20:3 means that the gospel can now go to the gentiles. That is, they think we’re in the thousand years now, and that Satan’s ability to deceive the nations has been stopped in the sense that he can no longer keep the true knowledge of God from the nations now that Christ has come, done his work, and sent his disciples to make disciples of all nations.

I submit that this explanation does not fit the narrative of the book of Revelation. I’m not imposing this narrative on the book. John himself highlights it by means of the kinds of details I’m pointing out: in the reuse of phrases from Revelation 13 in Revelation 19:20.

How does the narrative go? Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are deceiving the nations to worship the beast, and they’re killing Christians throughout church history (Rev 11–17). Christ comes and ends their deception of the nations (19:20; 20:3), raises the Christians they’ve killed from the dead (20:4–6), and reigns for a thousand years. Then Satan is loosed for the final rebellion (20:7–10) before the great white throne judgment (20:11–15) which is followed by the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21–22).

Note that it is only after the thousand years that Satan is thrown into the lake of fire, where the beast and false prophet already were. Revelation 20:10 states,

and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Beast and false prophet thrown into the lake of fire at the second coming of Christ (Rev 19:20). Satan bound for a thousand years (20:1–6), released to deceive a last time (20:7–9), then he too is thrown into the lake of fire, where the beast and false prophet already were (20:10).

There is a chronological progression that unfolds here, and Revelation 19:20 contributes to it. It’s a symbolic chronology, but it is a chronology.

See further Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, Preaching the Word. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.