READ: Revelation 18-20
BACKGROUND: There is a LOT in these chapters. And plenty of disagreement about exactly what it all means. As always, feel free to ask any questions that you have and I’ll get back to you. For what it’s worth – and you don’t need to read all of these unless you’re interested – here are some definitions of Biblical and theological terms that apply to these chapters:
Second Coming – Hebrews 9:28 – “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This is a general reference to the final coming of Christ from heaven to earth to establish his glorious kingdom. Revelation 20 goes into more detail.
Tribulation – A general word referring to the hardships and sufferings that God’s people will always have to pass through: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:22. Jesus refers to a time of “great tribulation” at the end of the age: “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of Man” – Matthew 24:29
Seven Years – The belief that the great tribulation will last seven years is not a New Testament teaching. It comes from Daniel 9:24-27 where Daniel predicts “seventy weeks of years” for the accomplishment of God’s redemption. The arguments are incredibly detailed and involved it would take a lot to sort through all of them. But many argue that the seventieth week of Daniel is separated from the first 69 and begins with the appearance of the antichrist or man of lawlessness. This is where the idea of a seven-year tribulation comes from. Revelation picks up this idea several times in its references to 3 and 112 years in 11:3, 12:6, & 13:5.
Pre-Tribulational Rapture – Pre-trib is the belief that before Christ returns in full glory, he will first return quietly to catch up the church and take us to heaven. This happens before the tribulation, and so the view is called the PRE-tribulational rapture. This implies that the Church will not be here during the tribulation. This understanding, though popular particular in the protestant west – America and W. Europe – over the last few centuries, is a relatively new belief which was not supported or held by the early church or by any major church figures during the first 1800 years after Christ’s ascension.
Post-Tribulational Rapture – Post-trib is the view that the rapture and the glorious second coming are part of one simultaneous event. The saints rise to meet the Lord in the air and accompany him back as the rightful king of the earth. This implies that the church will go through the tribulation on the earth – though Revelation does imply that believers will be shielded, in some way, from the full effects of the tribulation.
Millennium – The period of time mentioned in Revelation 20:4 during which the God’s people “reign with Christ a thousand years.” During this time Satan is bound and thrown into a pit “that he should not deceive the nations till the thousand years are ended” – Revelation 20:3. So the millennial reign of Christ is marked by peace and prosperity for God’s people. After this time there will appear the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1, 2 Peter 3:13).
PreMillennialism – This is the view that the second coming of Christ will precede the millennium and that he will rule personally and bodily on the earth during the thousand years. The thousand years may or may not be a literal thousand years. The number “1000” could mean 1000 or it could very well signify a perfect amount of time.
PostMillennialism – This is the view that the millennium will come through the success of the gospel gradually converting the world to Christianity and ushering in a golden age of the church. After a long worldwide period of peace and righteousness there will be an outbreak of evil and Christ will come in person to win the victory.
Amillennialism – This is the view that the thousand years in Revelation 20 is symbolic of the church age in which we live, and the “1000” represents the perfect amount of time between Jesus’ first and second comings. There will be no earthly millennium as such. Rather the second coming will usher in the final state of the new heavens and new earth.
THINK: For all of the debate in theological and denominational circles about when and how the Millennial Reign of Christ will occur – for the record I don’t think it makes a bit of difference in the way God calls us to live our lives and share his gospel message right now…so I generally refrain from opining – the imagery and message at the end of chapter 20 could not be more clear. The end is laid out explicitly: every single person who ever lived is going to be judged according to their deeds. And every single person who ever lived is going to fail that test because all of us are sinful. But those whose names are written in the book of life – those people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior – will be spared because – though 99.9999999% of their deeds may be wicked, the one deed that will be listed for ALL of them is: Jesus died for him. Or Jesus died for her. And that is enough. But those who have rejected God – who haven’t accepted Christ and followed after him – will be banished forever to the eternal torment of the complete lack of God’s presence in the lake of fire.
But those whose names are written in the Book of Life will live forever with God in the new heaven and new earth. And in this new heaven and earth – heaven and earth will be one. The place where God’s presence is most fully known and the place where humans live will be one and the same place.
So, as Christians, we have the blessed hope of knowing that death and evil and sin have already been defeated and that Jesus is coming back soon to crush them completely and that God is making all things new so we’ll live in perfection with him forever. This should do at least 2 things to the way we approach the world, I think. 1. It should give us hope and peace no matter what our circumstances. 2. It should inspire us to live all out for God and share our faith. Life & death, heaven & hell, eternity itself hangs in the balance for every person we meet.
PRAY: If you’ve never made Jesus the Savior and Lord of your life, consider doing it today. If you have, thank him for making things new. Thank him for the incredible hope that you have, in Christ, that at the end of all things you will be restored and made whole and reconciled and counted in the Book of Life because of what Jesus did. Check out this song and worship God today!