Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 10)

The Last Cycle of Visions: Revelation 19-22

Christ the Conqueror: Chapter 19

After another cycle of glorious worship in heaven, John sees heaven open and Christ comes riding on a white horse wearing a bloody robe. Once again, we see him brandishing his weapon of choice once again; the sword which comes out of his mouth. Notice that it is by the Word that he slays all of his enemies.

Disturbingly, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb actually begins with the saints worshiping before God and concludes with birds feasting on the corpses of God's destroyed enemies. The birds dine on Christ's enemies who were slain by His Word until they are "gorged with their flesh." Koester points out that this marriage supper is both a promise as well as a warning, depending on who the reader happens to be. The beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire. Notice again and again that Christ's Word is the weapon which strikes down his enemies.

The Millennial Kingdom: Chapter 20

Having eliminated Satan's partners in evil, Christ only has Satan to deal with, now. The angel sizes Satan and "bound him for a thousand that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended." Koester asks two questions with reference to this verse. His first question is, could you identify or find the "bottomless pit" in a geographic location? His answer to this is, no. In the same vein, he asks, could we then, find the timing of Satan's binding on a calendar?
Just as the door of the great abyss cannot be located on a map, the duration of the thousand years cannot be located on a calendar. One does not draw nearer to heaven by means of a space shuttle or nearer to the abyss by digging a shaft into the ground, and one does not enter the thousand-year period by turning a calendar page. John refers to time in order to point readers to a reality that lies beyond time (181).
He then points to other numerical references in Revelation that are non-literal:
  • The allies of the beast who receive kingly power "for one hour," referring to a short period of time (17:12), not a mere 60 minute reign.
  • The persecution lasting 3 1/2 years (11:1-2).
  • The use of 144,000 to denote a perfect number of the redeemed (7:4-8).
  • The multiples of "thousand" used to show the dimensions of the New Jerusalem (21:16).
Rather than counting off a thousand cycles around the sun, Koester says, the thousand years is meant to represent a fullness of time which comports with and satisfies the will of God.

What are the actual traits of the thousand year reign? It might seem like somewhat of a letdown to dispensationalists, because they are used to inserting all sorts of promises from other places in scripture and using this section as "a container" for those promises, though they are completely absent from verses 4-6 where we read about the millennial kingdom.
  • Those seated on the thrones receive a good judgment from God (he says this is the best translation from the original language in contrast to most modern translations which have the saints judging).
  • The souls of the faithful come to life and reign with Christ (we are not told if this reign is in heaven or on earth). John calls this the first resurrection.
These three verse are really quite a disappointment if you're a dispensationalist. The only way to juice up this passage is to bring in texts from other places, such as Isaiah 65 (which don't really find fulfillment until chapter 21). Since we are not told if this reign will take place on heaven or on earth, all we can affirm with the text is that the saints are reigning "with Christ."

The statement regarding the first resurrection in verses 5-6 read, "This is the first resurrection! Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years." Koester understands this to be a reference to the general resurrection. The way he sees it, the first resurrection is a way of speaking of the resurrection of the saints, while the second resurrection is a reference to the general resurrection of the ungodly. Koester acknowledges that Revelation is unique among the New Testament books in its referring to the Resurrection in two stages, but he does not see this as problematic. Note that the text says that the one who takes part in the first resurrection is "blessed." Essentially, then, Koester sees the distinction between the "first" and "second" resurrection to be a way of prioritizing the resurrections of the faithful and the wicked, not of actually separating them into completely different events.

We soon discover that the millennial reign "was not the climax of the cycle, but merely one point along the way to the New Jerusalem." The last chapters of Revelation are where we see the unfolding and fulfillment of the prophecies in Ezekiel 38 and 39. However, Revelation does not picture their fulfillment in the same chronology as Ezekiel does. Evidently, Koester says, we once again see that chronology is hardly a priority for John.

So Satan is released again to deceive the nations. Koester seems as puzzled by this event as the rest of us, but he derives from this the principle that it is not enough for evil to be bound; it must be brought to an end. Ultimately, the faithful saints reside in a "camp" which is surrounded by God's enemies for the last time. As we have seen time and time throughout Revelation, God's enemies are relentless and seek every possible opportunity to devastate the Christian community. As we have also seen, this pattern never ends well for Satan, and 20:9-10 is no exception, as fire falls from heaven consuming them. Finally, Satan himself is thrown into the lake and fire along with his cronies, the false prophet and the beast. It is a happy ending for the saints, as these three enemies of God "will be tormented day and night forever and ever." To the very end, Revelation stays true to its message that we may not ever think ourselves "neutral" with regards to God. Either we are for Him, or we are for Satan. There is no middle-ground. If we side with the Devil and his angels by disregarding Christ, we will share in his fate, and so the fate of the Devil as expressed here is a warning for the ungodly and a joyful promise for the Saints.

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