The Millennium Revisited: A Revolutionary Reading of Revelation 20 (Part 2)

lamb on throneBefore the Millennium

Revelation 20 doesn’t stand on its own. Within the narrative of John’s vision, the millennium is preceded by the judgment of the “beast” (the Roman Empire) and the “false prophet” (the Caesar Cult) in 19:11-21. Traditionally, the thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 has been defined by its relation to Christ’s second advent, which most readers have located in chapter 19. But is that what John intended? Does the vision of the rider on the white horse refer to the same climactic event which we see in places like Acts 1:11 and 1 Thessalonians 4:18, that is, the bodily return of Christ? I don’t believe so.

At this point even most amillennialists have been guilty of confusing the visionary and symbolical levels of the text with the referential level by their insistence that this scene portrays a more or less literal forecast of historical events. Clearly, the messianic portrait of 19:11-16 has a more direct correspondence to its referent than the vision of the slain lamb in chapter 5, since it describes Christ with the physical characteristics of a human being. But both descriptions are symbolic in the sense that they are visionary images written up with multiple echoes of biblical and post-biblical tradition, which means that we should not assume photographic realism as much as impressionistic and kaleidoscopic depictions of reality. John’s visionary experience contains images and narrative that represent, i.e. are symbolic, of things and events that existed, exist, or will exist in the real world. But his experience and the images themselves should not be confused with the realities which they represent.

On this note, R. J. McKelvey points out that many of the commonest features of the early parousia tradition, and the OT passages from which they came, are absent from Revelation 19—like the motifs of a cloud theophany, a great trumpet call, the gathering of the saints, and (most significantly) the restoration of creation (McKelvey 78-9). Instead, John’s portrait draws primarily from the “Divine Warrior” passages throughout the OT, a tradition expressed most often in connection with the judgment of nations within continuing history (e.g. Psalm 2; Isa. 63; Ezek. 1; Hab. 3). John has combined that Jewish tradition with the Greco-Roman portrait of a victory procession (e.g. the white horse and red robe) in order to parody the pomp of Rome and boldly proclaim its downfall (Fee 274). The inability of most commentators to see anything but the physical return of Jesus in this passage is a sign of the wide cultural gap that exists between the literary norms of our world and the prophetic tradition which was John’s native language.

The Roaring Lamb

Beyond the question of John’s intended referent in Revelation 19:11-21, there is also the question of its theology. Scholars often debate whether this scene portrays retributive judgment or nonviolent triumph, but I think this presents a false dichotomy. Revelation’s theology of judgment is shaped by the cross, so that God’s wrath upon injustice is released by the lamb who was slain. Jesus triumphed over his oppressors through allowing them to do their worst to him, but Jesus himself seems to have believed that this nonviolent response contained within it the retributive judgment of God—by allowing his oppressors to commit themselves to a cycle of violence which would eventually come back upon their own heads, as the judgment of God in the form of a military invasion (e.g. Luke 19:41-44; 23:28-31; John 12:31).

Revelation is permeated with this same cruciform theology of judgment. Just as John sees God’s victory over Satan in the sufferings of the crucified Messiah (Rev. 5:5-6; 7:9-10; 12:7-11), so also he sees God’s victory over Rome, Satan’s earthly representative, through the sufferings of those who “follow the lamb wherever he goes” and conquer “by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:7-11; 14:4; cf. 20:4). While the visionary image in 19:11-21 is of a messianic army dressed in white and conquering the enemy by a giant flying sword, the historical referent of the image is the triumph of Jesus’ testimony, borne out by the martyrs, over the idolatry of the Empire and the Imperial Cult—a retributive judgment through nonviolent resistance. Coals of fire are heaped upon the head of the beast and his followers through the faithful witness of those who refuse to take his mark or worship his image.

While this scene of judgment meets the faithful as a promise of vindication, however, it meets others as an urgent call to repentance (cf. 3:2-3; 16:15). This passage forms the angelic response to the embarrassing episode of 19:10, in which John himself nearly succumbs to the lure of idolatry. As the seer, John stands as the representative of the churches which he addresses, and his stumbling thus stands as a warning for them; the vision of the rider on the white horse reveals how God will respond to those who do not repent of their idolatry. As Jesus said to the church in Pergamum, prefiguring this scene: “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (2:16).

The Binding of the Dragon

Following John’s narrative into 20:1-3, we are warned once more not to confuse the visionary and symbolical levels with the referential level by simply picturing Satan himself bound in chains and imprisoned for a thousand years. To imagine this, and to thereby speak (as both amillennialists and premillennialists are guilty of doing) of the binding of Satan, runs the risk of a gross confusion of categories. Satan is not bound in Revelation 20; the dragon which represents Satan is bound. If we read the text historically, the binding and imprisonment of the dragon most naturally refers to the removal of the deceiving power which Satan held over the nations through the religion of Rome. The dragon is called “the deceiver of the whole world” in 12:9 and 20:3, and according to 13:14 it is through the false prophet (who looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon) that he “deceives those who dwell on the earth, telling them to make an image for the beast.” With the judgment of Rome and the end of the idolatrous Caesar Cult, therefore, Satan’s primary seat of authority is removed, his hands and feet tied, so that Jesus’ testimony can shine forth unhindered.

Thus, with Daniel 7 as his backdrop, John is showing that the suffering of the saints carries greater weight in God’s court than the brutal strength of Empire, and that through their witness the case of their accuser is reversed so that he, and not they, will eventually suffer the sentence of imprisonment and death (cf. 13:10). This reading also makes for a coherent interpretation of Satan’s release at the end of the millennium (which, incidentally, the standard amillennial reading fails to do): the point is that once again, just like in the first century, there will be a widespread, systemic intolerance to the gospel of the Messiah, as well as a virulent attack against the covenant community that bears and proclaims his name.

The Verdict of Heaven

After the judgment of the beast and the imprisonment of the dragon, John then shows us the other side of the great reversal of fortunes: the vindication of the martyrs (20:4-6). One of the primary questions modern interpreters ask at this point is whether John has all the saints in mind or only the martyrs, but McKelvey is right to point out that this question probably never entered John’s head (82). The prospective martyrs are obviously the party in view here, but within John’s visionary world there are only two parties: those who worship the beast and those who don’t and thereby suffer under his hand (13:15). The martyrs are not presented here as a sub-group of the larger community of faith, but rather as visionary representatives of the whole community portrayed in juxtaposition with the followers of the beast.

But where does this vindication take place? Isn’t it obvious that the millennial kingdom is an earthly kingdom? For several reasons, I believe the answer is a most decisive no. We note first that all of the descriptions of earthly restoration in the closing passages of John’s vision are to be found in the “new heaven and new earth” of chapters 21-22, and not in the “thousand years” of chapter 20. There is no indication of a progressive restoration of the earth or of a return to the promise land in chapter 20, just as there is no rebuilt Jerusalem and no rebuilt Temple (Hill 237-8). Especially considering John’s many allusions to the OT—which constitute our single greatest aid in understanding the way that he, the seer, understood his own vision—it is remarkable that he does not allude to any of the OT passages which have long been labeled “millennial” by both premillennialists and postmillennialists in his write-up of the millennium. In fact, John consistently saves such earthly associations for the post-millennial and eternal new earth of chapters 21-22.

On top of this, we note that the heavenly courtroom scene of Daniel 7:9-14 stands behind the vindication of the martyrs in Revelation 20:4-6. In that famous passage, “one like a son of man” is escorted into the presence of the Ancient of Days and is given dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth. That scene largely forms the OT background behind the vision of Revelation 4-5 as well, where John sees the risen Christ enter the heavenly throne room and receive the authority to complete God’s eschatological plan (note also the parallel in 12:5-12, where the male child is “caught up to God and his throne” and, after the dragon is cast to the earth, a loud voice in heaven proclaims that “the kingdom of our God and the power of his Christ have come”).

But the point is this: if the heavenly scene of Daniel 7 stands behind chapters 4-5, where Christ receives his kingly authority in heaven, then it stands to reason that the martyr’s vindication in 20:4-6 itself belongs in heaven. This is confirmed twice over; first, by the appearance of “thrones” in v. 4, which almost everywhere else in Revelation belong in heaven; and, second, by the parallel scenes of heavenly vindication in 7:9-17, 11:11-13, and 15:2-4.

The Proto-Resurrection

One final point, which I believe puts the nail in the coffin of an earthly interpretation of Revelation 20:4-6, is the argument set forth by M. G. Kline in his article “The First Resurrection”. The crux of the argument is that throughout Revelation 20-21 the word translated “first” or “former” (protos) is consistently used to qualify things which belong to the pre-consummate order, in contrast to those things which are “new”, i.e. consummate. In Hellenistic Greek protos often had the sense of “former” in contrast with “latter”, or the first of two (e.g., Matt. 27:64; 1 Cor. 15:45-47; Heb. 8:13; 10:9). In Revelation 21:1-5 the word “first” is employed in juxtaposition with “new”: the consummation of history brings “a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1), and a “new Jerusalem” (v. 2); indeed, it is the time when the Creator God makes “all things new” (v. 5)—and when the word “first” appears throughout the passage, it is used to speak of that which is superseded by the “new”. It may be good to see the words side by side to get the effect.

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the first things have passed away… Behold I make all things new.”

In light of this contextual meaning of protos, Kline argues that we should not understand the “first resurrection” as denoting simply the first of the same kind in a temporal sequence of two, but rather a preliminary and inferior sort of resurrection to the ultimate bodily resurrection of the new order. It is a proto-resurrection, an anticipatory coming to life of the faithful souls in heaven as they await the new life of the consummation.

This is confirmed by observing the relationship between the first resurrection and the second death. The “second death” is not simply the loss of physical life which every person must experience, but rather a death after death, an ultimate death reserved for the wicked (20:14-15). Likewise, the “first resurrection” is not simply the return to bodily life which John envisions for all of humanity (20:12), but rather a resurrection before resurrection, a preliminary coming to life reserved for those who were faithful unto death, who are now blessed and holy because they are exempt from the power of the second death (20:6). In other words, when John speaks of the second death and the first resurrection, he is in both cases explaining a lesser known reality (eternal punishment and the heavenly intermediate state) by the terms of a more commonly known reality (death and resurrection). In both cases the adjective modifies the noun as carrying a metaphorical meaning. In the case of the “second death” it lets the reader know that this is a more ultimate destruction beyond what we normally refer to as death. In the case of the “first resurrection” it lets the reader know that this is a preliminary stage of life which is anticipatory to what we normally refer to as resurrection.

The point though, within the narrative of Revelation 20, is that these souls are seen as being alive in spite of having been killed by the beast. The focus of the passage is on their position in contrast with the position of the beast and the dragon and the wicked dead. Their fate is thereby contrasted with the fate of the beast, who ironically goes alive to the “second death”. If we do not bias the case a priori by the clumsy application of a literalist hermeneutic, then I think this reading clearly has the evidence in its favor.

The Meaning of the Millennium

Now, with all of the above in mind, we note that this passage looks back in fulfillment to the promise to the persecuted overcomers in 2:8-11. When John tells the saints in Smyrna to “be faithful until death” so that they will not be hurt by the “second death,” he is directly alluding to the later part of his vision in which the souls of the martyrs “come to life” and reign with Christ for a thousand years, thereby being exempt from the “second death” (20:4-6). In receiving this admonishment from Christ, the struggling saints in Smyrna would be uniquely comforted by the vision of the millennial reign and strengthened to stand fast in the face of persecution. The two passages belong together as promise and fulfillment, which points to at least one dimension of the numerical symbolism of the millennium.

We recall that the saints of Smyrna were told that Satan would be allowed to throw some of them into prison, in order to test them, for ten days (2:10). After the judgment of the beast, however, John sees the dragon himself thrown into the prison of the bottomless pit, not for ten days, but for the greatly multiplied number of a thousand years. Since the number ten represents totality or completion throughout Revelation (e.g., 12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12, 16), and because of the innertextual relationship between the millennium and the promise to the suffering saints in Smyrna, the “thousand years” very likely represents an intensification or heightening of the imprisonment period of 2:10 according to the law of retribution in kind, or lex talionis.

In other words, the purpose of the numerical symbolism, in its immediate application to the suffering Christians in Asia Minor, is to strengthen the conviction that their momentary light affliction is working the far exceeding glory of resurrection life, a great reversal of fortunes to be rewarded at the throne of the risen Messiah, even prior to their being clothed with new bodies at his return. The number may carry further meaning, but this is its most explicit reference.

Conclusion: Promise or Warning?

In light of all of the above, we conclude that John’s vision of the millennium presents the promise of life to the faithful and a powerful warning to those colluding with idolatry. It pulls back the curtain of history and shows the heavenly antitype to the tyrannous reign of Rome, the preliminary vindication of the suffering saints, and their participation in the priestly reign of the Messiah in anticipation of the day when he makes all things new. This view is thus markedly different from the classic expressions of the three main schools of thought. Instead of trying to create a synthesized eschatological timeline out of John’s vision, it focuses on the purpose of the vision itself in its original historical context. There can be little doubt that the suffering saints of Asia Minor would have received the vision as a promise of reward aimed directly at them, as they faced the prospect of imprisonment and possibly even of death for the sake of staying true to Christ. Whether the vision meets us now as promise or warning depends entirely on where we stand in relation to the testimony of Jesus.

______________

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation: A New Covenant Commentary. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011.

Hill, Charles E. Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001.

Kline, Meredith G. “The First Resurrection.” WTJ 37 (1974/75): 366-75. Print.

McKelvey, R. J. The Millennium and the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1999.

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8 Responses to The Millennium Revisited: A Revolutionary Reading of Revelation 20 (Part 2)

  1. Reblogged this on Robert & Erin Vujasinovic and commented:
    Amazing post!

  2. I have a few questions. (Sorry!)

    In your second and third paragraphs you make a great case for the rider on the white horse not being the Second Coming, but instead Divine Warrior imagery. However, at the end of your fourth paragraph you said that the churches are being warned that the idolatrous will be destroyed in like manner. But in what way will those committing idolatry be overthrown? By conversion, via the word of the martyrs? I’m not following. It seems that with one hand you’ve just taken away what the other has given.

    Then in your fifth paragraph you emphasize that it is not Satan who is bound, but only a symbol that is bound. However, in 20.7 we read not that “the dragon will be released,” but Satan, and in 20.10 not that “the dragon was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone,” but the devil. I don’t see how you can divide the symbol from its referent. Take for example 5.6: surely you wouldn’t argue that John is not seeing Jesus, but only the symbol of the slain lamb, anymore than you could say that in 1.13-17 John did not see and fall down before Jesus but only a symbol of him. And there are many other examples that could be offered.

    Further down you point out that when mentioning the thousand years, John does not refer to any of the common proof-texts that are so often used when developing what this dispensation will look like and what its purpose is for, but only draws upon Dan. 7. I love this, but I’m confused how Daniel’s vision (where man’s original position of authority over the beasts is once and for all time restored to him) fits with John’s vision (where the old serpent is once again deceiving mankind). Any insight on this?

    Then there is Kline’s argument, where “the first resurrection” will pass away with “the first heaven and the first earth,” necessitating that it not be a bodily resurrection. However, long before the binding of the dragon / Satan, the martyrs are continually seen as “standing” in heaven, praising God and the lamb (7.9), singing a new song (14.1), holding harps and, like Moses after crossing the Sea, exalting God for His victory over their enemies (15.2). In Revelation, such instruments of worship (voice, harp, etc.) are the instruments utilized in priestly reigning. Jesus too was slain but is now “standing” (5.6; 14.1), and exerts his power by his word, which is both like a sword (1.16; etc.) and like a trumpet (1.10). So my question is, if this first resurrection is not a bodily resurrection, then what has changed for the beheaded? Satan’s absence is hardly warrant enough for calling this “the first resurrection” in my opinion. The beatitude of 20.6 sounds a bit like Dan. 12.12 (which certainly doesn’t bring clarity to this!), which makes me wonder at the question of this being *either heavenly *or earthly, when such a distinction is so very blurred both in Daniel and in Revelation.

    Does Revelation ever envision the Second Coming? Does it ever reveal the bodily resurrection? And, in this “sign-ified” book, how could we know so with confidence?

    Blessings buddy!

    • Ben, thanks for pressing me on these points! Since this was originally an essay for school I didn’t have the space to elaborate on a lot of things that really should be clarified. Your questions are helpful for me to think through those issues further.

      In response to your question about 19:11-21, I think the tension is resolved by a proper understanding of Revelation’s theology of the cross. Scholars debate whether this passage depicts a non-violent victory through the advance of the gospel or the retributive judgment of God, but I think this is a false dichotomy. Jesus triumphed over his oppressors through allowing them to do their worst to him, but Jesus himself seems to have believed that this pacifist response contained within it the retributive judgment of God—by allowing his oppressors to commit themselves to a cycle of violence which would eventually come back upon their own heads, as the judgment of God in the form of a military invasion (e.g. Luke 19:41-44; 23:28-31).

      In the same way, the reason why Revelation 19:11-21 describes the non-violent triumph of the martyrs through the imagery of the messianic war is because the testimony of the cross to which they bear witness contains within it the retributive judgment of God upon the beast and his followers. Given the symbolic medium, it is less clear exactly how John expects this judgment to be carried out, but, especially in light of the parallel use of the “sword” image in 2:16, I cannot see 19:11-21 as merely referring to the advance of the gospel.

      This is why I think 19:11-21 appears in juxtaposition with the strange episode of idolatry in 19:10. The whole reason why John included 19:10 in his final write-up of the vision, despite its embarrassing content, has to be because he believed it was vitally important to the overall message which he wanted the churches to hear; and the fact that it appears just before the climactic scene of the triumph of the Lord and his army over the blasphemous Empire and its local networks of false worship shows us what that message is. 19:11-21 should be read as a promise of vindication to the overcomers and an urgent warning of impending judgment to the ones found colluding with those idolatrous institutions.

      In response to your question about John’s calling the dragon “Satan” in 20:7, I understand this to be an interpretive description of his vision, just like when he says “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan” in 20:2, and just like he calls the second beast of 13:11-18 “the false prophet” in 16:13 and 19:20. When John uses the words “dragon” and “beast” it is simply because, on the visionary level, he saw a dragon and a beast, but when he uses the words “Satan” and “false prophet” is because he has translated the images of his vision into the terms of their referents.

      In response to your question about Daniel 7, I don’t think that the text intends for us to think that the messianic kingdom of 20:4-6 is cut short by the release of Satan in 20:7-10. Part of the point of those verses is to show how pitiful Satan’s last ditch effort to overthrow Christ’s kingdom is. The only reason why I think it qualifies the messianic reign in 20:6 as being temporary is because it is speaking of the heavenly, preliminary stage of that reign, in contrast with the consummate expression of chapters 21-22.

      In response to your question about John seeing the martyrs in heaven before Revelation 20, I think I could just as easily ask why the saints are given white robes in 19:8 after they were already given white robes in 6:11. That said, I think there is a progression from the vision of the martyrs in chapter 6 to the vision of the martyrs in chapter 20. It’s one of the many points of notable progression in Revelation’s narrative structure that discourages me from the old idealist view of the book as presenting seven parallel visions, with chapter 20 not continuing chronologically after chapter 19. However, there does also seem to be a degree of parallelism, with each section of the book alternatively displaying contrasting scenes of the coming war (6; 8-11:10; 12-14; 16-18; 19:11-21; 20:7-10) with the eventual outcome of victory (7; 11:11-19; 15; 19:1-10; 20:1-6, 20:11-22:5), or the church militant with the church triumphant. Each subsequent pair of visions seems to intensify the contrast between the coming tribulation and the eventual vindication, which I think is intended to produce a progressive sense of catharsis and assurance in the churches who are called to overcome in this battle.

      But seeing how it all comes to climax in the demise of the beast and the false prophet at the end of chapter 19, the rhetorical force of 20:4-6, building on the template of Daniel 7, is not simply to show the blessedness of the intermediate state, as Origen thought, but to show the contrast of vindication and life for those who were beheaded for their unyielding witness to Jesus with the ironic, self-destructive fate of Rome. And in that sense I think it does present a progression from the heavenly prayer of chapter 6, inasmuch as it shows the answer to the cry of the martyrs that God would “avenge” their blood, together now with the “complete number” of their brethren, through the judgment of their oppressors.

      Finally, in response to your question about how we can know with confidence any of the referents of John’s vision: as I said in the first part of this study, I think our anchor has to be the historical question of authorial intent and public meaning: how would John and his audience understand the imagery of his vision? But if “confidence” to you means absolute certainty, then I don’t think that kind of expectation really coheres with the kind of book that Revelation is, let alone any other genre of ancient literature. But I doubt that’s what you meant, so I guess I’m not really sure how to respond to that one.

      Bless you bro! Thanks again for the questions. Let me know if anything needs further clarification.

  3. Thanks for your responses to my questions, glad they were helpful.

  4. “Following John’s narrative into 20:1-3, we are warned once more not to confuse the visionary and symbolical levels with the referential level by simply picturing Satan himself bound in chains and imprisoned for a thousand years. To imagine this, and to thereby speak (as both amillennialists and premillennialists are guilty of doing) of the binding of Satan, runs the risk of a gross confusion of categories. Satan is not bound in Revelation 20; the dragon which represents Satan is bound. If we read the text historically, the binding and imprisonment of the dragon most naturally refers to the removal of the deceiving power which Satan held over the nations through the religion of Rome.

    The dragon is called “the deceiver of the whole world” in 12:9 and 20:3, and according to 13:14 it is through the false prophet (who looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon) that he “deceives those who dwell on the earth, telling them to make an image for the beast.” With the judgment of Rome and the end of the idolatrous Caesar Cult, therefore, Satan’s primary seat of authority is removed, his hands and feet tied, so that Jesus’ testimony can shine forth unhindered.”

    _____________________________________________________________________________
    “In response to your question about John’s calling the dragon “Satan” in 20:7, I understand this to be an interpretive description of his vision, just like when he says “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan” in 20:2, and just like he calls the second beast of 13:11-18 “the false prophet” in 16:13 and 19:20. When John uses the words “dragon” and “beast” it is simply because, on the visionary level, he saw a dragon and a beast, but when he uses the words “Satan” and “false prophet” is because he has translated the images of his vision into the terms of their referents.”

    __________________________________________________________________________

    Reading the three paragraphs above, I want to make sure I am picking up what your putting down and ask a few questions:

    On one level, John is seeing a dragon and he identifies the dragon’s referent as ‘the devil and Satan’ (20.2) and just ‘Satan’ (20.7). On another level, John sees the dragon and the reader is to identify the dragon with the ‘deceiving power which Satan had over the nations: the religion of Rome’. Or, Dragon=Satan and Dragon=deceiving power of Satan as exercised by Rome. What warrant do you see for adding the extra referent that the Dragon=Roman religion? Is this just something you see in the broader ‘church vs Rome’ in the whole of Revelation, or is there a warrant in the immediate context?

    If the dragon’s referent is both Satan and the religion of Rome, why then would we err in picturing Satan as being bound. If you are saying Rome’s religious power is bound and Rome’s power is the exercise of Satan’s power, then isn’t Satan bound?

    Do you see in this the ongoing ‘binding of Satan’, as the witness of the church undermines all imperial and religious systems? Or, do you see the ‘binding’ only having a historical application to the impending fall of Rome, and what we see in Satan’s being freed is after the fall of Rome God allowing Satan to use and build up whatever government/religious/world system to undermine the advance of the Gospel?

  5. Corrine, sorry for not being clear.

    In response to your first question, I think the symbol of the dragon represents Satan. I think the symbol of the dragon being bound in chains and cast into a pit (which comes on the heals of the destruction of the beast and the false prophet, the dragon’s hands and feet) represents the curtailment of Satan’s power to deceive the world through the religion of Rome. The dragon by itself does not refer to the deceiving power of Satan as exercised by Rome. It is the combined relationship of the symbols in Rev. 19:17-20:3 and the climax of the narrative which began in chapters 12-13 (concerning Satan’s consolidation of power into the beast and the false prophet who “deceives those who dwell on the earth” into worshiping the beast) that leads me to understand the binding of the dragon in connection with the judgment of Rome.

    In response to your second question, I don’t think Satan is literally bound because I think the imagery of the chains and the pit belong within the same symbolic universe as the image of the dragon (cf. Isaiah 24:21-22; 27:1). Talking about the “binding of Satan” thus involves a confusion of categories in which the image of the dragon is translated into the terms of its referent while the imagery of the chains and pit are assumed to have a one-for-one correspondence with their referents.

    In response to your third question, I think the binding of the dragon definitely has application beyond the fall of Rome as the faithful witness of the church continues to undermine all imperial and religious systems, as you say, but I don’t think the binding of the dragon refers to anything beyond the fall of Rome. This is why I think the four levels of communication which I spoke of in the first part of this study are so important. To say that the binding of the dragon refers to the removal of Satan’s power whenever and wherever the church undermines imperial oppression and religious deception involves collapsing the referential level of the text into the symbolic level of the text, which is exactly what Idealist interpreters do at point after point with the imagery of Revelation. In contrast with this approach, I think the imagery John’s vision consistently refers to the contemporary issues of imperial idolatry and oppression in his own day, but the meaning of that imagery applies beyond its initial referent. Thus, for instance, the image of the beast refers to Rome specifically, and not every idolatrous empire throughout history, but the image can be reapplied to any imperial power which fits the bill.

    Hope that helps! Let me know if anything still needs clarification.

    • Thanks, Matt.

      This helps, I think the bigger difficulty I’m having is trying to keep clear the various levels of communication going on in Revelation. It is difficult work when at every turn it involves undoing years of teaching!

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