Mathewson, Re-examination of the Millennium
- Dear list members,
For those of us who struggle with the millennium issue now and then,
a recent article by Dr. Dave Mathewson (who is on this list) is well
worth reading, indeed, a must-read. Its title is "A Re-examination
of the Millennium in Rev 20:1-6: Consummation and Recapitulation"
(Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44, no. 2 :
Mathewson argues that the millennium is neither amillennial (in the
traditional sense of realised- or inaugurated-millennial) nor
premillennial. It rather takes place "within the context of the
end-time Parousia of Christ" (p. 249; cf. R. W. Wall (Revelation, p.
227), whom he quotes).
Following Vern Poythress, Mathewson argues that one must distinguish
between the visionary, the referential and the symbolic levels. In
consequence, the one thousand year period "could <i>refer to</i> a
period of any duration, past, present or future" (p. 238). Moreover,
it must be demonstrated, not only assumed how it should be
Thus, Mathewson raises the question: "are there contextual
indicators that would clarify the temporal relationship between Rev
19:11-21 and 20:1-10?" (p. 239). He argues that there are several
reasons why "20:7-10 is a repetition of the judgment envisaged in
1) The presence of recapitulation in Revelation in general
2) The discrepancies between Rev 19:11-21 and 20:1-3 which are not
easily explained as chronological progression
3) The OT background for Rev 19:17-21 and 20:7-10, i.e. Ez 38-39
4) Rev 19:19-21 should be placed within the last bowl plague in
However, while this could indicate the traditional amillennial
interpretation of Rev 20:4-6, Mathewson furthers his argument by
asking: "does amillennialsim follow inexorably upon a demonstration
that 20:7-10 recapitulates 19:17-21?" (p. 242). This is an excellent
pertinent question. Mathewson correctly asserts that an
understanding of the millennium as "inaugurated" (G. K. Beale) must
be demonstrated, not merely assumed.
In Part III of his article, Mathewson therefore outlines the reasons
why he think the events of 20:4-6 are not inaugurated, but future.
1) The present context of the Parousia of Christ in 19:11-20:15 and
the visionary sequence
2) Rev 11:18, which corresponds to the primary thematic of
19:11-20:15. Rev 20:1-10 "is actually an extension of the seventh
trumpet, which occurs at the Parousia" (p. 243)
3) Rev 20:1-6 has close links with previous sections (2:26f; 3:21;
1:6; 5:10; 6:9-11) and "functions as a climax to these sections,
both literarily and temporally" (p. 243).
Thus, "the millennium of 20:4-6 depicts their <i>consummate</i>
fulfillment at the Parousia of Christ" (p. 244)
Mathewson further argues that the parallel between Rev 12:7-11 and
20:4-6 does not mean that they display the same event. Rather, it
reflects "the inaugurated-consummated structure of Revelation's
eschatology" (p. 244). This is supported by the fact that Rev 12:9
describes Satan as 'the deceiver' while 20:1-3 asserts that Satan is
bound in order that/so that he can no longer deceive the nations.
Finally, Mathewson argues that a more pertinent parallel to 20:1-6
can be found in 11:11-13, where the resurrection and the earthquake
also take place at the end of history.
The apparent problem of the thousand years is then resolved by
interpreting it symbolically: "the saints' reign and vindication
will be complete" (p. 247). The reference to the thousand years is
therefore important for its meaning and thematic value, not the
temporal information it conveys (p. 248). The millennium is
therefore "a further, <i>positive</i> effect of the Parousia of
Christ at the end of history" (p. 249). "Thus, I find recapitulation
taking place within the various visionary units in 19:11-20:15, but
within the context of the end-time Parousia of Christ" (p. 249). (A
number of corroborating arguments are not mentioned in this mail).
Interestingly, three and a half years ago I published an analysis of
the chronological duration of "the thousand years" in Danish (it has
therefore not been available to Mathewson). In this article I
concluded that the millennium takes place at the very Day of the
parousia and therefore is a very short period: an hour or a day.
Instead of Poythress's and Mathewson's distinctions between
visionary, referential and symbolical, I borrowed some terms from
narratological analyses (S. Chatman; G. Genette), namely discourse
(visionary) and story (referential/symbolical, in that one cannot
analyse to what Revelation refers without understanding its symbols
and imagery). Thus, I also made clear that I agreed with both
premillennial and amillennial interpretations on some points, but
disagreed with them on other issues. With some exceptions, my points
of agreement and disagreement correspond to those of Mathewson's
mentioned above. (I am not unwilling to publish this article in
English, but so far I have had neither opportunity nor time for
translating it). I suggest, however, that Rev 12:7-12 and 20:1-10 is
not two different events, but two stages of the same event, both of
which take place at the Day of the Parousia. In my thesis, which I
have recently submitted, I have developed both this argument and my
interpretation of Rev 20:1-10 somewhat further. Like Mathewson, I
conclude that the millennium, as understood by Mathewson, is the
positive effect of the Parousia, although I take the very
resurrection as the most significant issue and the vindication as an
important, secondary issue. I believe that Mathewson's and my
articles (and my thesis, when it becomes avaible) provide strong
support for this truly a-millennial position which sees the
'thousand years' part of the events of the Day of the Parousia.
Perhaps we are moving towards a "third (or fourth or fifth?)
position" or even towards the solution to the interpretation of Rev
20:1-10? This may be a too optimistic hope, as both the traditional
amillennial and the various premillennial positions are very strong
for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, I think it is fair to
conclude that this third view should now be included in future
discussions. (By the way, one may get the impression that this
"third view" is a new view, but it is not, as J. Webb Mealy has
shown in his doctoral thesis [cf. also my article]; however, Mealy's
work is not even mentioned in Mathewson's article).
Georg S. Adamsen
Ass. Prof. of NT, LSTA
Chatman, Seymour Benjamin. _Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure
in Fiction and Film_. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
Genette, Gérard. _Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method._
Translated by Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
Mealy, J. Webb. _After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment
in Revelation 20._ Journal for the Study of the New Testament
Supplement Series 70. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
- Perhaps I should add that my own article is:
Adamsen, Georg Stubkjær. "'De tusinde år': Et essay om den
kronologiske udstrækning af 'de tusinde år' i Åb 20,2-7" ('The
Thousand Years': An Essay About the Chronological Duration of the
Thousand Years in Ap 20:2-7). Ichthys 25 (1998): 67-83. I hope to be
able to make it available in PDF-format on the web, as soon as I get
access to my home computer again.
Georg S. Adamsen