In my last post on Shadow Covenant Theology, I introduced the idea of a shadow judgement. Just as the flood of Noah was a shadow or picture of creation, so also there is a judgement coming upon the world that serves as a shadow or picture of the final judgement that will come at the end of days.
Some refer to this judgement as “The Tribulation”, or “The Great Tribulation”. Technically that term in scripture refers to a smaller portion of the judgement – either the final three and a half years, or (as I believe) a single event that happens at the midpoint of that time (Matt 24:15-21). A more accurate term for the entire span of time would be “Daniel’s seventieth week,” a seven-year period described in Daniel 9.
There is much that could be developed here, but the key question for this post is whether or not this judgement – Daniel’s seventieth week – is the final judgement, or simply a picture of the final judgement. Shadow Covenant Theology takes the latter view, also known as Chiliasm or Premillennialism, holding that there will be a thousand year span of time between this shadow judgement and the final judgement. Says the Reformation Study Bible,
“The dispute partly concerns the chronological relation of [Revelation] 20:1-10 to 19:11-21. Premillennialists believe that the events described in 20:1-10 simply follow the Second Coming, which is depicted in 19:11-21. But 20:1-15 might also represent a seventh cycle of judgments leading up to the Second Coming…These enemies of God are consigned to everlasting punishment, and the visions depicting their judgment may be parallel descriptions rather than different events in sequence…Most important, all of Christ’s enemies have been judged in 19:11-21. If 20:1-6 represents later events, there would be no one left for Satan to deceive in 20:3.”
— Reformation Study Bible, introduction to Revelation
I appreciated the RSB’s balanced approach to this highly disputed area of eschatology (end-times theology). As noted, the dispute is only partly constrained to the cited passages in Revelation; Premillennialism doesn’t rise and fall with the interpretation of one passage; there are other supporting elements of scripture. But as Revelation provides the clearest chronological depiction of this period of time, how one interprets this passage has a great impact on one’s resulting viewpoint.
As noted, the key issue is whether or not the passage describing the millennium (20:1-10) follows chronologically the passage describing the return of Christ (19:11-21). For me personally, I find it difficult to take this in any other way than a chronological continuation of events. It’s possible, certainly, but to me it hardly seems like a natural interpretation of the text.
For example, at the return of Christ, the beast and the false prophet (two key antagonists) are thrown into the lake of fire (19:20). Then after the millennium, Satan is released, defeated, then “thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet were.” In other words, chapter 20 refers back to something that happened previously in chapter 19, and it seems to be taking it as a chronological continuation. The beast and false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire when Christ returned, and they’re still there when Satan is later thrown in.
Also we’re told that “those who…had not received [the beast’s] mark on their foreheads or their hands…came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (20:4). This description of a mark refers to something that happens within the judgement of Revelation, that everyone in the world will be required to receive a mark on the right hand or the forehead. Not receiving this mark will have the very practical effect of disallowing someone to buy or sell (13:16-17), which is something that we haven’t yet seen in history. So the global enforcement of a mark must necessarily precede the millennium described in Revelation 20 if those who refuse the mark will reign with Christ for a thousand years.
For reasons like this, I find that the best, most natural interpretation of chapter 20 is that it follows chapter 19 chronologically; the millennium comes after the return of Christ. It seems to me that the primary reasons cited for opposing a premillennial view of history come not from textual considerations, but rather from prior theological commitments and assumptions. For example, as the RSB stated above,
“Most important, all of Christ’s enemies have been judged in 19:11-21. If 20:1-6 represents later events, there would be no one left for Satan to deceive in 20:3.”
The assumption here is that all of Christ’s enemies are judged at His second coming. But is that what the text says? A careful reading of Revelation 19 shows that the only enemies discussed are the beast, the false prophet, the kings of the earth and their armies that have come to fight Christ – all people who are on the earth at the time of His return. The text says nothing about unregenerate men that died previously, unregenerate men who aren’t in the military, unregenerate men who are yet to be born, Satan, or death itself. To say that all of Christ’s enemies are judged at His second coming is an assumption, not something that is pulled from the text of Revelation 19.
Also, other scripture would seem to indicate that Jesus’ enemies would be defeated in succession, over a period of time, not all at once.
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
The passage above demonstrates that there will be an order, in time, of the defeat of His enemies. Jesus’ death and resurrection served as His first victory (Heb 2:14-15); next He will destroy opposing rulers and governments through the end of His reign, and eventually the last enemy He will defeat is death itself (Rev 20:14).
We know that death cannot be an enemy that is defeated at Christ’s second coming, because other scripture gives record of death after that time.
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.
“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.” (Is 65:17-20)
The above passage in Isaiah describes an interesting period of time after some sort of re-creation of the heavens and the earth. At first glance this would seem to be a reference to the final re-creation of the cosmos described in Revelation 21. However Revelation portrays an era when “death shall be no more” (21:4), whereas Isaiah describes a time when sin and death are still in the world.
The picture presented to us in Isaiah isn’t one of eternal life in a perfect world, it’s a description of longevity in a sin-cursed world. Like the days before the flood, there will come a day when the world is re-created and longevity will be restored. There will still be sin and death present in the creation, but people will live for a really really long time (65:20).
This I believe is a picture or shadow of eternal life. Just as God’s greater story of redemption begins with the loss of eternal life and ends with its restoration, so His shadow story begins with the loss of longevity and ends with its restoration. Therefore I believe that the re-creation described in Isaiah 65 is a type or shadow of the re-creation described in Revelation 21. Because it is a type there are many similarities, but there are also some important differences that should not be overlooked.
If we are to take passages like this at face value, then we need to allow for two more judgements and re-creations of the world, not one. This shouldn’t be exceedingly difficult for anyone who believes in a historic flood of Noah; we’ve already seen a global judgement and re-creation of the world once before. It is entirely reasonable that God might judge and re-create the world one more time without solving the issues of sin and death; we know this because we’ve seen Him do it before.
Why would God choose to have four instances of judgement and creation instead of three? I believe that it is because God has written a shadow story in history that He needs to bring to a close. The judgement and re-creation of Daniel’s seventieth week serves as the final chapter of a story that began with the judgement and re-creation of Noah’s flood. Speaking of the Jews, Gabriel said,
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.” (Dan 9:24)
In other words, Daniel’s seventieth week brings the final conflict and resolution of the Jewish story. If indeed the Church is the fulfillment of Israel and her final expression, then Daniel’s seventieth week marks the end of our story too, which makes Amillennialism an understandable position. Yet I find that much of prophetic scripture doesn’t fit naturally into this mold, like Isaiah 65 above. Zechariah 14 also presents a challenge. Following the return of Christ,
“the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one…
“Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them.
“And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.”
This passage I think will become important in a future post about the shadow graft (a post when I have to finally concede that classic Covenant Theology has a point about us Gentiles being grafted into the Jewish covenants). But for now I’ll simply note that after the return of Christ nations are still usurping and rebelling against His rule, and they are judged for it. If all enemies including sin and death are defeated at the point of Jesus’ second coming, then passages like this become difficult to fit into that paradigm.
Rather I think it more natural to assert that the judgement of Jesus’ coming, Daniel’s seventieth week is a type or shadow of the final judgement and re-creation. The judgements of Revelation 19 and previous are generally physical in nature, involving only those who are alive on the earth at Christ’s return. They are a type or a shadow of the final great white throne judgement when all the dead are judged unto everlasting life or damnation (though the beast and false prophet receive the firstfruits of this damnation at the point of Christ’s return).
Shadow Covenant Theology therefore sketches redemptive history along two distinct storylines. The greater story of redemption progresses from the creation of Genesis 1 to the great white throne judgement and the re-creation of Revelation 20-22. The shadow story of redemption progresses from the flood of Noah in Genesis 6-8 to the return of Christ and the recreation of the world found in Isaiah 65 and Ezekiel 40-48. With the beginning and end of these stories clearly laid out, we can now move on to examining their parallel plotlines – how they progress from start to finish – and the parallel covenants that serve as their main themes.
Before I can trace that however, I need to examine and address the way that classic Covenant Theology approaches the covenants of scripture; there are a few important points of disagreement that need to become clear.