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Survey of the New Testament

I.  Introduction:

 I do not have to tell you that the book we will be covering tonight attracts much attention from all sorts of different places (from Hollywood to local pastors).  Yet, I fear that the book is often missed for all of the hype.  In other words, in our rush to find out when the Lord will come back, we often miss the actual message of the book of Revelation.  Thus, as we have done with all of the books of the Old and New Testaments to this point, I want to begin by simply looking at the book itself.  Following this, we will spend some brief time considering the differing views of the millennium and their relation to this book.  In this way, hopefully we can focus on why this book was written and how it is to impact us today without completely ignoring some of the more controversial issues.

II.  Revelation:

 A.  Author: The author identifies himself as John in four different places (see 1:1, 4, 9, and 22:8).  Most have identified this John with John the Apostle, who wrote the Gospel of John and the letters of John.  There are no strong reasons to reject this conclusion.

 B.  Time and Setting: John tells us that the visions that take place in the book of Revelation were given to him while he was in exile on the island of Patmos.  Look at 1:9.  Thus, the book of Revelation is John’s record of these visions.  The book is actually addressed to the seven churches that are in Asia (1:4).  These churches are identified later in the book as each one is personally addressed (see 1:11, 2-3).  It seems that each of these churches was facing fierce persecution and John is writing of his visions to encourage them.  It was probably the last book written in the New Testament, being written around 95 a.d.  Of course the visions of John deal with future events and are filled with prophetic language and images.  The difficulty in interpreting this book centers around these images.  Yet, we must be careful to not rip these images out of their original context and purpose, which was to encourage these seven churches in Asia around the end of the first century.  As we have said before, we want to know what John meant when he wrote the book, for what he meant then is still what it means today.

 C.  Outline:
  1.  1-3 Introduction and Messages to the Seven Churches
  2.  4-16 Seven Seals, Seven Trumpets, and Seven Bowls
  3.  17-21 The Triumph and Reign of God

 D.  Theme: The major theme of the book of Revelation is to encourage believers with the truth that God will win in the end.  If we can say anything conclusively about all that John is telling us about future events, we can say that when all is said and done, God will reign on His throne forever.  The coming judgment for unbelievers is sure.  The coming victory for all who believe in Christ is sure.  Yes, there is controversy in the details, but the fact that God is the Sovereign King over the universe and His plan will come to fruition is undeniable in the book of Revelation.  We see this clearly in chapter 4.  Look at that with me.  We began this study with Genesis 1, where the Bible tells us of God speaking the universe into existence.  We end with God sitting on His throne surrounded by those whom the Lamb has redeemed with His blood.  Indeed, from beginning to end, he is the Alpha and the Omega (1:8).  As believers, we can only respond with John to the Lord’s promise to come soon by saying simply: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (22:20). 

III.  The Millennium:

 A.  Introductory Thoughts: One of the more controversial issues of the book of Revelation involves interpreting 20:1-10.  Look at that passage with me.  The text speaks of Christ reigning with believers for 1,000 years on the earth, while Satan is no longer allowed to deceive the nations.  This 1,000 year reign is referred to as the Millennium.  Yet, some difficult questions arise when considering this passage, such as: will Christ return before or after the Millennium begins?  Will there be one resurrection (believers and unbelievers) or will there be two (believers before, then unbelievers after the Millennium)?  Will the Church be present during the great tribulation that Christ speaks of in Matthew 24?  Who will be present and what will take place during the Millennium?  As you can see, there are many issues to discuss when considering this text and the issue of the Millennium.  Briefly, let’s consider the four major views of the millennium. 

(NOTE: These charts, courtesy of Justin Taylor's blog, are helpful.  Click here to download the PDF file.)

 B.  Four Views of the Millennium
  1.  Amillennialism: This view sees Revelation 20:1-10 as referencing the present Church age.  In other words, when Christ was raised, Satan was bound (v. 1-3).  Christ is currently reigning from heaven with all the believers who have died.  Obviously, the Millennium is not a literal 1,000 years, but rather a reference to a lengthy period of time.  The first resurrection, mentioned in verses 5-6, refers to Christ’s resurrection and those saints who were raised with Him.  When Christ returns, at the end of the Millennium, everyone will be raised and judged and the eternal state will begin.  Although this is the simplest of explanations and holds to a resurrection of believers and unbelievers when Christ returns, it is hard to except the interpretation offered for Revelation 20:1-10.  For example, it does not seem, through experience or other passages, that Satan is currently shut up in the bottomless pit and unable to deceive the nations (see 2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 John 5:19).  Likewise, the explanation given for the first resurrection is difficult to defend as well.  However, there are some attractive points to this view like its simplicity and its holding to one future resurrection of believers and unbelievers.
  2.  Postmillennialism: As with the Amil. view, this view sees Christ as coming after the Millennium.  The Millennium will begin (or has begun) at an unknown time, possibly at the binding of Satan (v. 1-3) or another time.  Once the Millennium begins there will be a great expansion of Christianity throughout the world.  Following this, Christ will return to judge the world and begin the eternal state.  Of course, the real problem with this view is that the world is not becoming a better place and the Bible does not seem to support such an overly optimistic view of the end times (see 2 Timothy 3, Matthew 24).  During the World Wars, this view lost most of its support.  Seemingly, few hold to this position today.

  3.  Historic Premillennialism: Unlike the first two views, this view sees Christ coming before the Millennium begins, thus the title ‘premillennialism.’  Historic premil. sees Christ returning after the great tribulation.  At this return, the believers who have died and the believers who are currently living will meet Christ in the air prior to His coming to the earth to reign (the first resurrection, v. 4-6, see also Matthew 25:6 for an understanding of ‘meeting’ Christ in the air, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).  When He comes, He will set up His reign and believers will reign over the earth with Him for 1,000 years (or an extended period of time.)  Satan will be bound at the return of Christ (v. 1-3).  After the 1,000 year reign, Satan will be loosed and will gather all of those who continue to rebel against Christ and will attack one final time.  They will be defeated and cast into the lake of fire (see v. 7-10).  Following this will be the resurrection of unbelievers and the final judgment.  The eternal state will begin after the final judgment.  My struggle with this view is the separation of the resurrection of believers and unbelievers (although this could be possible biblically).  Also, some difficult questions arise concerning what will actually take place during the Millennial reign.  Yet, all things considered, this view seems to be the most faithful to Revelation 20:1-10 and other passages that speak of a time that is not like the present state and not yet the eternal state (see Isaiah 11:6-9, 65:20, Psalm 72, Zechariah 14:5-17).  Thus, I would probably consider myself in this camp for the time being.

  4.  Dispensational (or Pretribulational Premillennialism): The main difference between this view and Historic Premil. practically speaking is that Christ will rapture the Church prior to the time of great tribulation on the earth.  Following the ‘secret’ return of Christ, those who are left behind will face seven years (based on Daniel 9:24-27) of severe tribulation on the earth.  After the seven years, Christ will return to reign with believers on the earth for 1,000 years.  Satan will be loosed at the end of the Millennium only to finally be defeated and thrown into the lake of fire.  The resurrection of unbelievers will then occur and the final judgment.  Along with these differences concerning Christ’s return, the Dispensational view also sees a clear distinction between the Church and Israel.  They maintain that the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament will be literally fulfilled during the Millennium.  My struggle with this view is two-fold.  First, I do not think that the Bible teaches that the Church will be removed from the earth ‘secretly’ prior to the Great Tribulation.  Rather, the rapture will occur when Christ comes at the last trumpet, which will not be secret or quiet.  Likewise, many passages talk about the Church going through times of severe tribulation (see Matthew 24, Luke 21, 2 Timothy 3, and others).  Second, I do not agree with the Dispensationalist approach in general.  Their view of a hard distinction between the Church and Israel is not faithful to Paul’s teaching in Galatians.  Likewise, the seven dispensations are somewhat of a strange way to interpret the Scriptures and history in general.  Thus, I do not hold to this view.

IV.  Conclusion:

 I recognize that there are many questions that I have not even mentioned concerning the book of Revelation.  Yet, again my goal is to consider the book in general and not all the specific questions that it raises.  At the end of the day, I reminded of a story that my New Testament Survey professor told me in college concerning the book of Revelation.  He said that when he was in seminary, a particular group from the seminary decided to take a survey about the book of Revelation.  One person they interviewed was a local barber.  They asked him what the book of Revelation taught us.  He answered simply: “God wins in the end.”  Although this is an oversimplification of the book, we must realize that if we get too far from this truth in trying to understand Revelation, then we have missed the point.  The book should not be divisive or controversial to Christians as much as it should be a rallying point for our belief in the reign of our Sovereign God.  May it call us to rejoice and take hope in the God who will win in the end.  Amen.
~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 27 November 2006 )

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