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The topic of the millennial reign of Christ often provokes intense debate among contemporary Christians. When the subject is broached, it doesn’t take long for the debate to degenerate into arguments about the three predominant views: premillennialism (in both its historic and dispensational forms), amillennialism, and postmillennialism. The unfortunate feature of these debates is that they fixate on questions regarding the exact timing of the millennium. Does the millennium occur before or after the second coming of Christ at the end of the present age in redemptive history? Does the resurrection of believers occur before or after the millennium? Though these questions are important, they can easily detract from the main point of the vision in Revelation 20. They also tend to encourage an interpretation of Revelation 20 that is isolated from the testimony of the New Testament as a whole.

Yet when we approach the vision of the millennium of Revelation 20 within the framework of the book of Revelation in particular and the New Testament in general, we are able to capture the grand theme that Christ’s reign has already commenced and will ultimately triumph when Christ comes to receive His bride, the church, in its glorified state (Rev. 21–22). To borrow the title of Dennis Johnson’s fine commentary on the book of Revelation, the present and future aspects of the story of redemption involve nothing less than the triumph of the Lamb of God, who is also the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5–6).

The reign of Christ represented in Revelation 20 is the same reign of which the whole New Testament speaks.

To appreciate the significance of the vision of the millennium in Revelation 20, it is important to remember the purpose and structure of the book of Revelation as a whole. Revelation’s purpose is to comfort and encourage the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2–3), its original recipients, and all the churches of Jesus Christ throughout subsequent history whom these churches represent. This means that all the visions of the book, including the vision of the millennium, should be viewed from the standpoint of this question: How would this vision encourage the original recipients of the book?

The structure of the book of Revelation is especially instructive. Revelation begins with an opening prologue in which Christ is described as the “firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5). Jesus Christ is already now the risen, ascended, and reigning King. Though He died, He now lives forevermore and has “the keys of [i.e., power over] Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18). Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who walks among the “seven lampstands” (representing the churches) and holds firmly the “seven stars” (representing the church’s ministry of the Word) in His hands (Rev. 1:20). After this breathtaking revelation of Christ’s kingship, the book records Christ’s letters to the seven churches, followed by a remarkable vision that reveals Christ as the only One who is worthy to break the seven seals of the scroll that represents God’s comprehensive purposes for the course of history (Rev. 4–5).

Thereafter, the main body of the book records a series of visions (often organized in sequences of seven, representing the full scope of redemptive history). In these visions, we see a symbolic depiction of what will transpire during the course of the present epoch in redemptive history. These visions tell the story of redemption from the time of Christ’s first coming until His coming again at the end of the age. Despite the complexity of these visions, their main focus is on the triumph of the Lamb together with His people. Four archenemies of Christ and His church emerge in the course of redemptive history: the dragon, the first beast, the second beast or false prophet, and the false church/the harlot Babylon. In precisely the reverse order of their appearing, these opponents will each in turn be conquered by Christ. In Christ’s triumph, His people triumph. The vision of the millennium closes the main body of the book and is followed by a concluding series of visions that portray Christ’s ultimate triumph in the new heavens and earth.

When Revelation 20 is interpreted in the light of the purpose and structure of the book of Revelation, one point becomes crystal clear: Christ, the Lamb of God, will prevail over all His and His people’s enemies. Nothing will frustrate Christ’s power to gather, protect, and preserve His church until His kingdom comes in its fullness. Just as the Lamb of God is paradoxically the Lion of the tribe of Judah, so the persecuted church of Jesus Christ paradoxically lives and reigns with Christ, even in the face of opposition and death.

As my teacher Anthony Hoekema often reminded his students, the reign of Christ represented in Revelation 20 is the same reign of which the whole New Testament speaks. The risen and ascended Christ has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). People from every tribe, tongue, and nation are being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The risen Christ will reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet, including the last enemy, death itself (1 Cor. 15:25–26). As the Gospels remind us, Christ came to bind and plunder the strong man’s house (Matt. 12:29; see Luke 10:17–18). In the words of Christ Himself, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31–32).

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