A Contemporary-Historical Analysis of the Apocalypse

“It must be observed, that two distinct thousand years are mentioned throughout this whole passage."  John Wesley


There are two basic interpretative models of Revelation twenty current among full Preterists.   The view represented by my friend Don was first advanced by Max King. This view says that Revelation’s millennium (singular) refers to the “transition period” between the cross and second coming.  King thus coined the phrase “transmillennial,” obtained a trade mark for it from the U.S. government, and it continues to be the private property of King’s ministry to this day.   

King’s view is simply a version of Augustine’s Postmillennialism.  Postmillennialism says that the millennium represents a symbolic period beginning with Christ’s earthly ministry until the world’s end sometime in the future.  According to Augustine, the dragon is bound by the gospel of Christ; the martyrs and confessors represent those who have been regenerated by obedience to the gospel.[1]  King’s model differs from Augustine’s only in that it foreshortens the long ages and futurism of Postmillennialism, squeezing them into the forty-odd year period ending at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  

The single greatest obstacle the Augustine/King view presents to this writer’s mind is that the symbolism is incongruous with the interpretation, which makes those beheaded for the testimony of Christ represent individuals who have experienced baptismal regeneration and thus “died with Christ.” [2]  Can we really believe that beheading represents regeneration?  For that matter, if the dragon was bound beginning with Christ’s earthly ministry, when and how did the martyrs die?  John says they died for their testimony of Christ (v. 4).  This means they died sometime after Christ’s earthly ministry. How does this square with the idea that the dragon was bound beginning with Christ’s ministry?  Doesn’t the fact the saints have suffered martyrdom require that the dragon have first been loosed?  Can someone bound in prison kill innocent victims who are free at large?  If not, doesn’t this mean that the 1000-year binding of the dragon ends before the 1000-year reign of the martyrs begins?  We think so, and therefore have settled upon an entirely different view, which we call “Bimillennialism.” 

Two Millennial Periods

We said before that so long as the dragon remained bound in prison, he could not bring about the persecution of the saints, and that therefore the 1000-year binding of the dragon necessarily ended before the 1000-year reign of the martyrs began.  But if the one ends before the other begins, they obviously cannot be the same period.  Thus, there are two millennial periods contemplated by the text.  With this agrees Joseph Bengel, Thomas Brightman, A. E. Koch, Jim Millay, Daniel Steele, and Anglican Reformer, John Wesley, among others, who see two millennial periods in the text, rather than the traditional one: 

“It must be observed, that two distinct thousand years are mentioned throughout this whole passage. Each is mentioned thrice; the thousand wherein Satan is bound, verses 2, 3, 7; the thousand wherein the saints shall reign, verses 4-6. The former end before the end of the world; the latter reach to the general resurrection. So that the beginning and end of the former thousand is before the beginning and end of the latter."[3] 

Indeed, most explanations produce two millennia if we but take the time to analyze them closely.   For example, King’s model says that the binding of the dragon began with Christ’s ministry (Matt. 12:29) and ended when the Jews’ war with Rome broke out.[4] Thus, this 1000-year period runs from A.D. 30-A.D. 67.  But the reign of the saints King says begins with their participation in Christ’s resurrection by baptism starting at Pentecost, and ends at the general resurrection.  Thus, this 1000-year period runs from A.D. 33-A.D.70.  They do not match!  If they do not begin and end at the same point, then it is axiomatic that they are not the same 1000- years!  In fact, Augustine, the so-called father of Postmillennialism, also admitted that the thousand year periods do not match (and therefore cannot be the same 1000 years): 

“This last persecution by Antichrist will last for three years and six months, as we have already said, and as is stated both in the Apocalypse and by the prophet Daniel.  Though this time is brief, it is rightly debated whether it belongs to the thousand years during which it is said that the devil is bound and the saints reign with Christ, or whether this short span is to be added to those years and is over and above them.  For if we say that it belongs to the thousand years, then it will be found that the reign of the saints with Christ extends not for the same length of time as the binding of the devil, but for a longer time…How, then does Scripture include in the same limit of a thousand years both the binding of the devil and the reign of the saints, if the binding of the devil is to cease three years and six months before the reign of a thousand years of the saints with Christ?[5] 

Notice that Augustine admits that the binding of the dragon and reign of the saints cannot be enclosed within the same 1000-years, and that they extend “not for the same length of time.” As with King’s model, they do not match!  If they do not match, they cannot be the same.  No matter which way we cut it, two millennial periods emerge from the text.   

Meaning of the Symbolism

So much for the fact of two millennial periods, what does the symbolism mean?  Let us begin with the observation that both the dragon and the saints/martyrs are physically dead. The saints have been beheaded for their testimony of Christ (v. 4) and the dragon, together with its alter ego, the beast, has received a mortal wound to its head (Rev. 13:3, 12) and has descended to the place of the dead.  But if both have experienced physical death, then both are in Hades.  The dragon, being wicked, is in the place assigned for the dammed; the saints, being justified, are in the place assigned for the saved.  John describes the dragon as being bound with a great chain (v. 1). This is the identical imagery used by Peter to describe the “angels” that sinned (probably the “sons of God” (faithful) who apostatized by marrying the daughters of unbelieving men – Gen. 6:2), and were cast down to Hades Tartarus, where they were held in chains until the judgment: 

“For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Gk. Tartarus), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”  II Pet. 2:4 

This is the true source of John’s imagery, not Matt. 12:29.  John is telling us that the dragon and beast suffered death in the mortal wound they received, and were thus bound in Tartarus (bottomless pit) for 1000-years.  The martyrs likewise have suffered death, and have entered into a 1000-year rest pending the general, Hadean resurrection.  John describes this same group of martyrs in chapter fourteen, saying, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13; cf. vv. 9-12). We know that the martyrs died in the persecution under the beast; when did the dragon and beast die?   

Death and Resurrection of the Dragon and Beast

John tells us that the beast received a mortal wound to one of its heads, but that its wound healed, and thus arose to persecute the church again (Rev. 13:3, 14). John also says that beast ascends from the bottomless pit to make war with the saints (Rev. 11:7; 17:8, 14). Thus, the healing of the wound marks the point at which it revives and ascends from the place of the dead, and persecutes the church. But if persecution marks the life of the beast, then what is the death of the beast but the cessation of persecution?  Where did the beast receive the mortal wound? There are only two persecutions in Revelation, one in chapter twelve, which was past when John wrote, and one beginning in chapter thirteen, that was about to break out.   The persecution in chapter twelve followed closely upon the ascension of the “Man-child” (Christ) and therefore may be identified as the great persecution under Caiaphas, Pilate and Saul (Paul) that arose over Stephen (A.D. 34-38).  The dragon and beast went down to death in defeat when this persecution collapsed; they   ascend again in chapter thirteen in the persecution under Nero. 

Thus, the dragon (and beast) was bound during the period from the collapse of the persecution over Stephen until the persecution under Nero.  This is the period during which Claudius was upon the throne, enforcing the “religio licita,” which extended protection of law to the national religions of the peoples of the Roman Empire.  Christianity was deemed a sect of Judaism, and as Judaism was protected, so was Christianity.  Claudius even banished the Jews for disturbing the Pax Romana by their incessant riots and tumults against the Christians in Rome (Acts 18:2; Suetonius, Claudius XXV, 4).  This protection reached even to the first 10 years of Nero’s rule, when he was a youth under the guardianship and tutelage of Seneca and Burris.  But with the burning of Rome, the Christians were made a scapegoat for the emperor’s crimes, and the first imperial persecution broke out (A.D. 64-68).  Revelation was written on the threshold of this persecution. John thus describes the beast, saying, “it was and is not and is about to ascend out of the bottomless pit” (Rev. 17:8).  The release of the dragon in Rev. 20:7 is the point when the persecution under Nero breaks out. 

This interpretation is consistent with what we read elsewhere in the New Testament.  The Thessalonians were in fear that the eschatological gathering into the kingdom by martyrdom was at hand (II Thess. 2:1), but Paul assured them that someone and something was restraining the fanatical hatred of the Jews (the “mystery of iniquity”) and the Roman power (vv. 6, 7).  This restraint thus answers the binding of Rev. 20:1-3, and represents the political stability that obtained during the reign of Claudius, but which was almost spent by the close of Acts, shortly before Paul fell as a martyr under Nero.  The late Canon of Westminster, F.W. Farrar, could thus write:  

“St. Paul, when he wrote from Corinth to the Thessalonians, had indeed seen in the fabric of Roman polity, and in Claudius, its reigning representative, the “check” and the “checker” which must be removed before the coming of the Lord.”[6] 

Whence the 1000-Years? 

This accounts for Revelation’s imagery based upon the historical situation existing at the time it was written.  What about the symbolism of the 1000-years, how do we explain it?  In a letter recorded by Eusebius, Dionysius of Alexandria alludes to Rev. 20:4, saying, “the divine martyrs themselves among us, who now are assessors of Christ, and share the fellowship of His kingdom, and take part in His decisions and judge along with Him.”[7]  From this epistle we learn that the early church believed that the martyrs were alive in Paradise and in some form or manner reigned there with Christ.  Greeks and Romans believed that the dead lived in Hades 1,000 years, after which they were restored to earthly life.  In his epic poem, the Aeneid, Virgil causes his lead character, Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan war and legendary founder of Rome, to descend to the nether world, where his deceased father describes the 1,000-year sojourn of the soul in Hades: 

Yes, not even when the last flicker of life has left us, does evil, or the ills that the flesh is heir to, quite relinquish our souls; it must be that many a taint grows deeply, mysteriously grained in their being from long contact with the body.  Therefore the dead are disciplined in purgatory, and pay the penalty of old evil: some hang, stretched to the blast of vacuum winds; for others, the stain of sin is washed away in a vast whirlpool or cauterized with fire.  Each of us finds in the next world his own level: a few of us are later released to wander at will through broad Elysium, the Happy Fields; until, in the fulness of time, the ages have purged that ingrown stain, and nothing is left but pure ethereal sentience and the spirit’s essential flame.  All these souls, when they have finished their thousand-year cycle, God sends for, and they come in crowds to the river Lethe, so, you see, with memory washed out, they may revisit the earth above and begin to wish to be born again.[8] 

Revelation was written to Greek and Latin speaking Gentiles in Asia Minor who would almost certainly have associated the millennia of Revelation Twenty with Hades. The connection of the passage with Greco-Roman notions of Hades was noted by the famous French skeptic, Voltaire: 

The belief in this reign of a thousand years was long prevalent among the Christians. This period was also in great credit among the Gentiles. The souls of the Egyptians returned to their bodies at the end of a thousand years; and, according to Virgil, the souls in purgatory were exorcised for the same space of time—et mille per annos.[9] 

If a learned skeptic recognized the connection between John’s imagery and ancient notions of Hades, it is difficult to imagine that contemporary Christians of Greek descent could fail to see it also. Indeed, the epistle of Dionysius of Alexandria quoted above stands as testimony that in fact they did.


Revelations millennia (two) describe the intermediate realm of Hades where the dragon went down in defeat upon the collapse of the persecution over Stephen, to rise again in the persecution under Nero, but where the saints and martyrs dwelt in happiness pending the general, Hadean resurrection.

[1] “Since, then, there are two regenerations…one after the faith, which even now come about through baptism; the other after the flesh, which is to come about in its exemption from decay and death…so there are two resurrections: one, the first, of the soul, which now is, and which prevents us from coming into the second death; the other, the second, which is not now, but is to be at the end of the world.”  Augustine, City of God, XX, vi; Loeb ed. 

[2] “Who are these souls?  They are the millennial saints, the believers in Christ from the cross to the end of the old aeon of salvation-history. They are the ‘pre-end-of-the-age’ saints who came to life in advance of the end of history (the Jewish age).  They came to life through death and resurrection ‘with Christ’…They attained unto fullness of resurrection life ‘with’ Christ’ (by dying and rising with Him) in advance of the end of the age.”  Max R. King, The Cross and the Parousia of Christ (1987, Warren, OH), 248, 249. 

[3] John Wesley, Commentary on Revelation, in loc.

[4] Max R. King, Spirit of Prophecy (1971, Warren OH), p. 353; cf. The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, p. 225, 246.

[5] Augustine, The City of God, XX, xiii; Loeb ed.

[6] F.W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (1891, Columbian Publishing Co, NY), p. 13; cf. The Life and Work of St. Paul, Excursus XIX, (1879, Cassell and Co. ed), p. 726.

[7] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History VI, xlii, 5; Loeb ed.

[8] Virgil, Aeneid, lines 735-51; C. Day Lewis ed; cf. Plato, Republic, X, 614

[9] The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III, sec. 1 (1764, Philosophical Dictionary, Part I)


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