The Millennium – Interpreting Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 1

Hermeneutical Basis

The purpose of this series of posts is to provide an interpretation of the millennium in Revelation 20, with particular emphasis on the arguments of Stanley Grenz in The Millennial Maze [Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992)]. In order to accomplish this purpose, basic interpretational principles will first be listed that serve as guides to interpreting prophecy in general and Revelation 20 in particular. Since Revelation 20 should be interpreted within its biblical context, a summary of that context will then be provided. This approach will lead to a premillennial view of Revelation 20.

After summarizing this preferred interpretation of the thousand years in Revelation 20, the arguments of Grenz will be presented and critiqued. This leads to the conclusion that the thousand years represent a literal future millennial reign of Christ on the earth.

The following hermeneutical ideas form the foundation of this interpretation of the millennium in Revelation 20.

  • The normal meaning of words is accepted unless the context directs otherwise.
  • The prophetic portions of Scripture contain many genres. Prophecy is not itself a genre.
  • Whether predictions are clear or vague is a product of the original words.  Clarity is not changed by subsequent history, or by subsequent use of the passage.
  • The interpretation of an Old Testament passage in its context is the basis for understanding how it is used in the New Testament.  Its use in the New Testament is not a basis for revising its interpretation in the Old Testament.
  • There is a demonstrable difference between “unconditional” and “conditional” promises. The general rule is that prophecies are conditional (that is, threatened judgments may be averted by repentance, and promised blessings may never materialize due to subsequent disobedience). The general rule of conditionality is suspended only when the original context of the promise and the persistent restatement of the promise (in spite of delaying circumstances) give evidence that the promise is unconditional.
  • All prior Scripture is part of the “context” in which subsequent Scripture is to be interpreted.  Prophecies may use symbols that have been given specific meaning in previous Scriptures, with little need to specify the meaning again.
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