“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” John 5:22-30
In previous parts of our study about God’s Judgment we saw how God the Father has given all judgmental authority to Jesus Christ – Who is the Son of God, Son of Man, and Son of David.
In the last part of our study we began answering questions about future judgment in respect to what is often referred to as Christ’s Millennial Reign on earth. We now want to look at an extremely important aspect of how to interpret the Book of Revelation to make sure we understand the Holy Spirit’s purpose for inspiring John to write it.
Christ’s Millennial Reign
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:1-15
Here’s a quick reminder about the biblical concept of Christ’s Millennial Reign:
The Hebrew word for ‘thousand’ is ’ălāp̄îm (אֲלָפִים֮). The Greek word for ‘thousand’ is chilia (χίλια). The Hebrew word is not used in the Old Testament to describe the period of time that Messiah will reign, but the Greek word is used in Revelation multiple times.
Here are the highlights –
- Satan will be bound and cast into a bottomless pit for a thousand years
- Satan not be allowed to deceive the nations until the thousand years are finished
- The souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years
- Those souls will be part of the first resurrection and will be priests of God and Christ and reign with Him for a thousand years
- The rest of the dead won’t live again until the thousand years are finished
- Satan will be released from his prison at the end of the thousand years and will go out to deceive the nations and gather them together to battle against Christ
The next event we see in Revelation is that fire will come down from God out of Heaven and devour those who will surround the camp of the saints and the ‘beloved city’ (Jerusalem). Satan will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and false prophet were also cast. “And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Once God has dealt with the Satan and the nations gathered against the saints in Jerusalem, we read this in Revelation 21:
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15
Literal or Allegorical?
Many Christians view Revelation as primarily literal. They interpret the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation as a literal event that will happen. Other Christians interpret the thousand-year reign of Christ as allegorical. They interpret the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation 20 as spiritual symbolism.
Allegorical means – “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of allegory; having hidden spiritual meaning that transcends the literal sense of a sacred text.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Literal means – “Taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or exaggeration.” (Oxford Dictionary)
So, is there any difference in interpreting Revelation literally or allegorically? Yes, a big difference!
A literal interpretation of Revelation means the reader understands the author’s use of words and phrases as literal unless presented in a way intended to be taken symbolically. One of many examples in the New Testament is John 10:9 –
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Jesus is God in the flesh – not a literal door. The context shows that Jesus was using the word door as an allegory. The context followed an exchange Jesus had with some pharisees about physical and spiritual blindness. Jesus told them that anyone who did not enter the sheepfold “by the door,” but climbs up some other way is “a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the way is the shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:1-2). It was in that context that Jesus said, “I am the door.” It’s clear from usage and context that the word door referred to a spiritual aspect. That’s how literal interpretation approaches text and context.
An allegorical interpretation of Revelation means the reader understands the author’s use of words and phrases as allegory. The reader would view the words and symbols “spiritually” rather than literally. We might say that someone who interprets Scripture allegorically is “spiritualizing” the text.
One of the challenges of interpreting Revelation allegorically is what parts of it, if any, are to be understood literally.
- Was John the Apostle literally on the island of Patmos or was he an allegory?
- Was Jesus Christ literally with John on the island of Patmos or was He an allegory?
- Did Jesus dictate letters to seven literal churches or were the letters and churches allegories?
If we use an allegorical interpretive approach to Revelation, or any portion of Scripture for that matter, how do we know if anything was meant to be taken literally?
Was the story of Jesus’ birth to a virgin literal or allegorical? Was the story of Jesus’ death on the Cross literal or allegorical? Was the story of Jesus’ resurrection literal or allegorical? Did the Holy Spirit come to the Church at Pentecost literally or should we understand that as allegory? Were Peter and Paul literal apostles of Christ or were they allegories?
If we interpret portions of Old and New Testament writings as allegorical, how can we know if anything in the Bible really happened? Many Christians believe the first 11 chapters of Genesis are allegorical as if it didn’t really happen in history. Some spiritualize Israel’s slavery in Egypt and exodus from Egypt as if it didn’t really happen in history.
As strange as it may sound to you, there are people who identify as Christians who believe parts of the life of Jesus are an allegory. How do we defend the historicity of Jesus’ life if we believe some or all of the stories about Jesus are allegorical?
How we interpret Revelation, literally or allegorically, will greatly impact our view of how God’s judgment works.
If you have not read all of the parts of this study, we invite you to do that now for the Scriptural background to Christ as Judge.
We will look at four views of the timing of Christ’s judgment in the next part of our special series “God’s Judgment: How It Works.”
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.