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.

20 Responses to How Revelation 19:20 Supports Historic Premillennialism

  1. PJ Tibayan May 11, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Wouldn’t your blog post be more accurately titled, “How Revelation 19:20 Supports Premillennialism”? I ask this as one who holds to historic premillennialism but was trained at a dispensational premillennial seminary.

    • JMH May 11, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Sure . . .

  2. Jeff May 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    Wouldn’t postmillennialism, with its preterist view of Rev. 1-19, also allow for a chronological interpretation?

    • Matthew Abate August 1, 2013 at 3:04 am #

      Jeff, I believe that you’re correct. The postmillennialist does agree on some level with the premillennialist about Rev chapters 19-20 exhibiting a chronological flow. One key difference between pre and post is that the postmillennialist sees the millennium occurring within the present church age as a result of gospel conquest.

      From my perspective, I don’t see that in scripture. I think Matthew 7:13-14 is sufficient enough to challenge the foundational tenet of postmillennialism, which is its insistence on a golden age due to gospel conquest.

  3. Brian Kinley May 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Hey Dr. Hamilton,

    In the second to last paragraph you refer to the second coming of Christ in Rev 10:20. I assume this may be a typo because I checked the reference being a little confused and that verse is speaking about something else?

    • JMH May 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      I meant 19:20, thanks! Fixed.

      • Brian Kinley May 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

        That makes much more sense ;) Thanks!

  4. Tim Hawkins May 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Nu-uh!

    Actually I haven’t read the post yet, I just thought this would be a funny response. Blessings.

  5. J Poland May 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    Thanks for this post. Was helpful to walk through this concise chronology of the last things road map. By showing the parallel language of 13/19 youve made the progression (and future fulfillment) of revelation evident.

  6. rd May 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Good Monday morning, Jim. I really shouldn’t comment because I’ve not had time to read your entire post (it’s Monday and work is crazy busy this morning!!!). But this struck me as odd and thought I’d run it by you. You note:

    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”

    Where does Rev 13:13 talk about a false prophet? And why would the false prophet be refered to as “it” in 13:13 and as “he” in 19:20? The beast seems to always be refered to as “it” (impersonal) and I’ve always understood the beast to be not an actual person (not a personal “he”) but a political regime or government or empire.

    • JMH May 15, 2012 at 8:15 am #

      Revelation 16:13 calls him the False Prophet,

      Jim

  7. BBunnell May 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Well said!

  8. MarkO May 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    I believe that Rev 19:20 is simply another camera angle of the same end event also seen from a different camera angle in Rev 20:7-10 as well as the same end event also seen from yet another camera angle in Rev 13.

    It is beautiful to see how the various camera angles fit together to make a vivid picture of the same end event.

    You have basically confirmed William Hendrickson’s recapitulation/parallelist theory for Rev 13 and 19.
    One problem though is that the Premil leaves Rev 20 out of that recapitulation cycle.

    In Hebrew literature parallelism is important, thus I don’t believe it fits the Hebrew character of Rev to arbitrarily take something out of its parallel structure and isolate that item for a future anachronistic use.
    We don’t pull phrases out of their parallelist sequence when we read the Psalms or other such parallelisms in the OT. I recommend that we don’t do that to Rev 20 either.

    • Matthew Abate January 9, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

      Neither Jim Hamilton nor I would dispute the apostle John’s use of parallelism in the book of Revelation. I would add that the parallelism within the book is a function of its chiastic structure, which was a Jewish form of literature employed in Old Testament prophecy.

      That being said, the Amillennial and Postmillennial interpretations of the binding of Satan introduce a contradiction into the text. Both views hold that Satan is bound during the present, church age. Here’s the issue as I see it.

      Back in Rev 12-13, Satan deceives the nations, but in Rev 20, Satan doesn’t deceive the nations. The contradiction has to do with Satan doing and not doing the deceiving during the same time period: the church age. Jim’s post highlighted this contradiction without stating it in those terms.

      Finally, there’s another issue with the Amillennial and Postmillennial views. This has to do with the reign of the martyrs and saints. According to most amillennial and postmillennial scholars, Rev 20:4-6 depicts the reign of the martyrs in their disembodied state (or intermediate state), which is ongoing in heaven during the present, church age.

      In Rev 6:9-11, the martyrs cry out for the Lord to avenge their blood, but in Rev 20 these same martyrs have been avenged. According to the Amillennial and Postmillennial camps, Rev 6:9-11 and Rev 20:4-6 occur during the same time period and context: the present, church age.

      I have great admiration for many preachers who embrace the Amillennial and Postmillennial views. From my perspective, I don’t see a way around the above mentioned interpretative obstacles.

  9. Tyler March 14, 2014 at 2:28 am #

    Matthew,

    *Preterist* postmillennialism solves those problems beautifully because it does not regard the millennium (church age, starting in 70 AD in John’s highly schematized drama even though it started at Pentecost in a sense) as coinciding with the period of persecution by the Beast of Ch. 13 (even though there will continue to be little-‘b’ beasts that plague the church (ultimately unsuccessful in thwarting het extensive mission).

  10. Tyler October 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    In Revelation 19: 21 it says “the rest were killed with sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse…” Then in chapter 20 you have the 1,000 years and then after that Satan is released to go deceive the nations. My question is who are these “nations” in 20:8 and where did they come from?

    • JMH October 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

      I think they are the same people who don’t worship after Yahweh’s apocalyptic triumph in Zech 14:16–19, and they are the beasts whose lives are preserved for a season and a time after their authority is taken away in Dan 7:12. So it seems to me that the slaughter in Rev 19:21 is not universal . . . perhaps everyone present was killed and there were others who were not present or who surrendered begrudgingly and whose lives were spared.

      • Tyler October 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

        So the nations who don’t go up to worship the Lord and celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles and the beasts who had been stripped of their authority (but could remain for a short time) are the same ones who weren’t killed in Rev 19 and reside on earth (outside of Jerusalem) during the 1,000 years and are the same ones that Rev. 20:8 is describing?

        • JMH October 21, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

          That seems to be the case . . .

  11. Tyler October 21, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Dr. Hamilton,
    In Revelation 19: 21 it says “the rest were killed with sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse…” Then in chapter 20 you have the 1,000 years and then after that Satan is released to go deceive the nations. My question is who are these “nations” in 20:8 and where did they come from?

    Thank you, Tyler

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