Note: This essay is a chapter from my book, The Great End Time Debate: Issues, Options, and Amillennial Answers (Redemption Press, 2022). I have posted it here not only to introduce readers to the Revelation, but also to help them understand its most controversial chapter, Revelation 20. Once you have finished reading the essay, you may wish to continue with the sequel, available here.

Here is a key to some of the acronyms you will find in my books and essays:

DNT = The Didactic New Testament (the teaching portions of the NT)
OTKP = OT prophecies of the Kingdom of God
NCH = New Covenant Hermeneutic (the NT method for interpreting the OT in general, and OTKPs in particular
HP = Historic Premillennialism
PP = Partial Preterism
FP = Full Preterism


Immanuel’s Loftiest Land

Truly, God has situated the Revelation of Jesus Christ in the high places of Immanuel’s Land, for which reason many a biblical traveler, growing suddenly dizzy, has found himself turning back, overwhelmed. And yet the holy terrain ever beckons, being richly favored with tall peaks and lush valleys that God’s pilgrim people long to see and enjoy. The need, then, is not to avoid the Revelation, but to be equipped and prepared so that we can boldly enter in. In the following essay I have done what I can to meet that pressing need.


The year is around 95 A.D. John, in all probability the last living apostle, is now in his 80’s (John 21:21-23). Because of his faithfulness in preaching the Gospel, the Roman authorities have exiled him to a penal settlement on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9; John 21:21-23). It has been over 60 years since Christ’s ascension. The Lord is tarrying, and among many believers the expectation of his Parousia is waning (2 Pet. 3:1f). The demonic emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68), a vicious persecutor of the Roman Christians, has come and gone. Titus has decimated Jerusalem (A.D. 70). Under emperor Domitian the persecution of Christians has spread throughout the Empire and reached Asia (A.D. 81-89). More is now looming (Rev. 2:3, 10, 13). And beyond this external threat there are internal threats as well. Heretical “Christian” sects have grown in size and number. Their members are seeking to infiltrate the orthodox churches and draw away disciples (Acts 20:13ff; Rev. 2:2, 6, 14-15, 20-24); some churches are even tolerating their presence (Rev. 2:14f, 20f). The love of certain Christians is growing cold (Rev. 2:4, 3:1-2). Others, having thus far escaped the fires of persecution, are falling in love with the world and sinking into apathy and hedonism (Rev. 3:14-21). The situation is dire. The faltering Church needs a word from the Lord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is that word.


The author is the apostle John (Rev. 1:1, 4, 9, 12; 22:8), an historical fact confirmed by several of the early church fathers. Significantly, he is now in exile (likely from his home church in Ephesus) and under persecution. In fulfillment of his Lord’s words, he has remained upon the earth for many years; and now, as promised, his Lord has come to him. It is not to take him home, but instead to give him a revelation and prophecy meant for the Bride, the entire Church (John 20:20-23). Like John himself, she will be in exile: not from the presence of her Lord, but from her heavenly home. Like John himself she will (often) be under persecution (Rev. 12:6ff). And so Christ comes to him . . . and through him to her. Through the Revelation he will prepare his Bride for her centuries-long pilgrimage through the howling spiritual wilderness of this present evil world (Rev. 12:6, 14).


It is almost certain that John recorded the Revelation around 95 AD. This is important to keep in mind, since preterist interpreters argue for a much earlier date: sometime between 54 and 68 AD, during the reign of Nero. Based on that assumption, they say that most (or all) of the “comings” and judgments described in the Revelation were actually fulfilled in and around the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But as indicated above, the internal evidence weighs heavily against it. Accordingly, the vast majority of scholars agree that the Revelation was composed between 81-96 AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. Notably, at that time Pergamum was the official center of emperor worship in Asia, and the city in which Antipas became a “faithful martyr” for his Lord (Rev. 2:12f). External confirmation of a late date comes from the scholar and bishop, Irenaeus (ca.125-202), who, citing earlier sources, wrote, “John received the Revelation almost in our own time, toward the end of the reign of Domitian” (i.e., AD 81-96).1

Intended Audience    

The Revelation is a prophecy given by God, through the glorified Christ, his angel, and his apostle, to the universal Church, for the crucially important reason that it is about the universal Church. It is not, as preterists hold, about the Church in and around 70 AD. Nor, as dispensationalists hold, is it (largely) about a band of 144,000 Jewish evangelists proclaiming a millennial Kingdom during a literal seven-year Tribulation. No, it is about all Christians of all times and all places. It is a prophecy meant to edify, exhort, and encourage the universal Church.

The evidence for this crucial thesis abounds.

Revelation 1:1 states that God gave Christ the Revelation in order to show it to his bond-servants. That would be the universal Church.

In Revelation 2-3 we have Christ’s messages to the seven churches of Asia. But the number 7, which symbolizes completeness and perfection, alerts us to the fact that here we have a complete and perfect message designed to perfect the complete Church: the Church of all times and places.

In Revelation 1:9 we hear Christ telling John: “Write down the things you have seen, and the things that are, and the things that will take place soon after them.”

This verse gives us one of the key structures of the book. The things John saw are described in chapter 1: the details of Christ’s self-disclosure to the apostle. “The things that are”—the present condition of the seven churches of Asia—are described in chapters 2-3. “The things that will take place soon after them” are described in chapters 4-22. These are the things that will happen from now on: all the way out to the Consummation and beyond. Why does Christ want all his bond-servants to know about these things? The answer is obvious: It is because he knows these things concern and affect all his bond-servants. The Revelation is for the universal Church because it concerns the universal Church and the things that will affect the universal Church.

In a moment we will discover a second way in which the Revelation is structured. It too will show that the book is for and about all Christians of all times and places.

Nature and Purpose  

On six separate occasions John speaks of the Revelation as a prophecy (Rev. 1:3, 19:10, 22:7, 10, 18, 19). Now according to the apostle Paul, he who prophesies speaks to men for edification (i.e., instruction in the faith), exhortation (i.e., warning, admonition), and comfort (i.e., encouragement, the impartation of hope), (1 Cor. 14:3). This short definition wonderfully captures the deep purpose of the Revelation. Everywhere we turn we find the exalted Christ teaching, warning, and encouraging his Bride, so that she may overcome all adversaries, complete her pilgrimage, and safely enter the completed Kingdom of God.

A few examples will illuminate this rich three-fold purpose.

In the Revelation Christ teaches the Church Militant by helping her understand her true place in the world and in Salvation History. In other words, through the use of richly symbolic language he strengthens her grip on the biblical worldview. Here Revelation 12 is central. In a prophetic vision of stupendous theological reach and power, Christ teaches the Church Militant who she is, what she is about, what she can expect, and upon whom she can call and count as she makes her way out of eschatological Egypt, through the eschatological Wilderness of Sin, and into the eschatological Promised Land. Fittingly, this rich chapter stands in the middle of the book, since in many ways it gives us the keys to the whole book. Before wrestling with Revelation 20, it will repay you to study it well.

In the Revelation the Lord exhorts the Church by warning her about the four enemies she will encounter in her long pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world.

The first is the Dragon, that serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan (Rev. 12:9). While he is indeed capable of direct attack upon the saints, in the Revelation he is found using the three remaining enemies as his evil agents and instruments.

The second foe is the Beast (Rev. 13:1-4), the political or governmental face of the world-system, which, when seized and energized by the Dragon, will always persecute the true spiritual Church.

 The third enemy is the False Prophet, also called the Beast from the Earth (Rev. 13:11-18, 16:12-16, 19:20, 20:10). This beast symbolizes not simply false religion, but false religion in the service of the self-deifying State, and therefore demanding that the Church worship the State on penalty of persecution or death.

The fourth and final enemy is the Harlot, also called Babylon the Great and the Great City (Rev. 17:1, 3, 5, 18; 18:2). This is the economic, commercial, and cultural face of the world-system. As a general rule the Harlot likes to collude with the Beast and the False Prophet, doing all she can to persecute the Church (Rev. 17:6), even as she entices saints and sinners alike with her allurements and sorceries (Rev. 18:23).

Out of deep love and concern for the Church’s purity, power, and eternal welfare, the High King of Heaven exhorts his Bride to be aware of all her enemies and to come out from among them (Rev. 18:4)

Finally, in the Revelation the heavenly Husband speaks comfort to his Bride, and this in several different ways.

At the very outset of the book he comforts her with a majestic vision of his own divine nature, covenant faithfulness, and Messianic glory (Rev. 1:9-20).

He comforts her with repeated assurances of his presence in, and faithful watch-care over, all his churches, even as he manifests the tough love that he feels for each one of them (Rev. 2:1-3:22).

He comforts her with rich, symbolic representations of his heavenly mediatorial reign, the share that the saints have in it, and his absolute sovereignty over all that remains of Salvation History (Rev. 4:1-5:14).

He comforts her with scenes of the spirits of departed believers safely arrived in heaven, praying for divine justice, and waiting eagerly for the resurrection of their bodies at his return to the earth (Rev. 6:9-11, 20:4-6).

He comforts her with serial portraits of his own Parousia in power and glory at the end of the age (Rev. 14:14-20, 19:11-21).

In conjunction with these portraits he also comforts her with visions of ultimate justice: of final rewards for the faithful saints, and of final retribution against the persecuting and God-hating “inhabitants of the earth” (Rev. 6:9-17, 11:11-19, 15:1-4, 16:17-21, 20:7-15).

He comforts them with several “sneak-previews” of the glorified Church surrounding the throne of the Triune God, exultantly lifting up the eternal worship that will fill the World to Come (Rev. 7:9-17, 14:1-5).

And finally, he comforts her with two luminous chapters supplying mysterious, thought-provoking glimpses of the (eternal) life of the saints in the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21-22).

Do you consider the Revelation a frightening book? Well, for sinners it is, and is meant to be. But for saints who bravely venture into its depths, it is not only a prophecy that instructs and exhorts: It is also a river of comfort that never ends.

And this is true of Revelation 20 as well.

Underlying Theme

The underlying theme of the four Gospels is the humiliation of the Son of God: His incarnation as the Last Adam, his righteous life, atoning death, and public ministry on earth as Israel’s Messianic prophet, priest, and king.

The underlying theme of the Revelation is the exaltation of the Son of God: the various ways in which God the Father is pleased to honor his Son, so that in the end every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord: the High Prophet, Priest, and King of the universe (John 5:23; Phil. 2:5-11).

In a moment we will see how the structure and contents of the Revelation reinforce this majestic theme. Here, however, I want to highlight the many ways in which this book sets the worshiping Christian before every facet of the one diamond that is the exaltation of Christ.

The Revelation shines its light on Christ’s resurrection (Rev. 1:18), his ascension (Rev. 12:5), his session at the right hand of the Father (Rev. 5:1ff), his spiritual headship over his Body (Rev. 2-3), his authority and control over all the remaining events of universal history (Rev. 5:7, 6:1), his prophetic proclamation of the Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth through the Church Militant (Rev. 6:2, 11:4-13, 14:6), his faithfulness to his persecuted people (Rev. 12:6, 13ff), his ongoing (providential) judgments against their enemies (Rev. 11:5, 16:1f), his rich provision for the souls of his departed saints (Rev. 6:9-11, 20:4-6), his rush to the rescue of his little flock in the days of the Last Battle (Rev. 16:12f, 19:11ff), his glorious Parousia at the end of the age (Rev. 6:12ff, 11:11ff, 14:14ff, 19:11ff), and, at that time, the final judgment of his enemies, whether human or demonic (Rev. 6:12ff, 11:11ff, 14:14ff, 16:17ff, 19:11f, 20:11ff), the final redemption of his Bride (Rev. 7:1ff, 11:11f, 15:2-4, 14:14-16), and the creation of new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home where he and his beloved Bride will dwell with the Father, the Spirit, and all the holy angels as the eternal family of God (Rev. 21-22).

This manifold revelation of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ is integral to the prophetic character of the book. It is in beholding and contemplating the exalted Christ in all of his offices, prerogatives, judgments, and redemptive acts that the saints are instructed, admonished, and, above all, comforted for their arduous spiritual journey through the wilderness of this world.

Does all of this help us understand Revelation 20? Indeed it does. For if the theme of the book as a whole is the glory of the exalted Christ reflected in the course, character, and consummation of his heavenly reign, how likely is it that the theme of Revelation 20 is the glory, vicissitudes, and final failure of his future 1000 year earthly reign?

No, the Revelation is a predictive prophecy that sings the glory of the High King of Heaven and Earth through and through. To see this is to see the meaning of chapter 20 as well.

Literary Genre

The Revelation is an outstanding example of what theologians refer to as biblical apocalyptic. We may define this as a special kind of prophecy in which the Holy Spirit uses symbols—both images and numbers—to communicate divine truth about the course, character, and consummation of Salvation History, and especially about final judgment and final redemption.

We encounter biblical apocalyptic in both the Old and New Testaments. Chapters 24-27 of the book of Isaiah use dramatic OT imagery to speak of final judgment and final redemption on the Day of the LORD. The four beasts of Daniel 7 supply what is likely the single greatest OT picture of the course and character of Salvation History. The mysterious tropes of Ezekiel 38-39 give us the consummation of Salvation History at the Last Battle and the Day of the LORD. The visions and prophecies of Zechariah are apocalyptic through and through. While many NT texts address the course and consummation of Salvation History, the Revelation is the sole instance if NT biblical apocalyptic.

Our definition states that biblical apocalyptic uses vision and symbol to communicate truth about Salvation History. It is vital to understand, however, that in the Revelation the Holy Spirit no longer uses these instruments to veil the truth about things come (as he did in the OT), but rather to celebrate the truth about things previously unveiled in the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles. In other words, the Revelation is not really a “mysterious” book, since the DNT gives us the keys by which to understand it (and all the OTKP’s that puzzled the prophets themselves). To see this blessed fact is to receive fresh courage for plunging into its formidable depths. 

Method of Interpretation

As an instance of biblical apocalyptic, the Revelation is a book of signs. Therefore we must interpret its images and numbers symbolically, rather than literally.

If you doubt this, simply look at the first verse of the book. There it is written that God “ . . . sent and signified (the Revelation) by his angel to his servant John” (Rev. 1:1). The Greek for “signify” is semaino, a verb etymologically related to the noun semeion, which means “sign.” In using the verb semaino to describe this prophecy, the Holy Spirit is instructing us at outset to interpret the Revelation as a book of signs or symbols. We shall not go far wrong if we do.

It is true, or course, that all interpreters acknowledge the presence of symbols in the Revelation. However, while admitting that it contains symbols, many premillennarians do not acknowledge that it is a book of symbols, which must therefore be interpreted figuratively and symbolically from start to finish.

The result is an inconsistent hermeneutic. For example, pressured by the obvious, the prophetic literalist will concede that the sword coming from Christ’s mouth is a symbol for the word of God (Rev. 1:16), or that the seven horns and seven eyes of the exalted Lamb of God symbolize his omnipotence and omniscience (Rev. 5:6).

When, however, the literalist comes to the 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel (Rev. 7:4), or to the two witnesses who prophesy and (briefly) perish on the streets of the Great City (Rev. 11:8), or to the Church’s 1260 days in the wilderness (Rev. 12:6), or to Christ’s admonition against taking the mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:16-18), or to the gathering of the kings of the whole earth at the Mountain of Megiddo (Rev. 16:14), he suddenly abandons a symbolic hermeneutic for a literal, thereby abandoning a consistent method of interpretation for an inconsistent. Despite all the evidence that this really is a book of signs, he nevertheless imports his literalist approach to OTKP into the Revelation itself, not realizing that the NCH alone can open both to our understanding.

So then: We must recognize that in the Revelation the Holy Spirit is giving us the Bible’s supreme manifestation of biblical apocalyptic, that it is a book of symbols through and through, and that the DNT provides the key for interpreting those symbols with confidence. When we do we will soon understand the meaning of the 144,000, the Two Witnesses, the 1260 days, the Mark of the Beast, the Battle of Armageddon, and the 1000-year reign of Christ proclaimed in Revelation 20.

There is more to be said about the proper interpretation of the Revelation, but before we can say it we must pause for a moment to consider its structure.


At first glance the Revelation is indeed a complex and intimidating book. But when we push past our fears, enter in, and carefully survey the entire terrain, we begin to see things: recurring themes, patterns, and cycles. Suddenly, perhaps after several readings, we realize that this prophecy has a structure: a structure so nuanced, complex, beautiful, and ingenious that the hand of God himself must be behind it. Moreover, when we fully behold this structure we see at once how to interpret the book as a whole, and chapter 20 in particular. We must, then, devote some quality time to this crucial subject.

Having considered a number of different views on the structure of the Revelation, I have found myself returning over and again to the ideas presented in William Hendriksen’s outstanding commentary, More Than Conquerors.  I have tried to summarize them in this chart. Let us consider it in some detail.

As you can see, the book is divided into five blocs. The titles beneath each one reflect my best effort to identify the main idea of that particular bloc, while at the same time keeping in view the central theme of the whole book: the Person and Work of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, the High King of Heaven.

I am very pleased with the fact that the third bloc, which gives us the Investiture of the High King of Heaven (Rev. 4-5), stands mid-way between the other two. This is altogether fitting, since this particular bloc is the theological Mount Everest and center of gravity of the entire prophecy. For consider: Because of his coronation as the High King of Heaven, Christ can come to John in glory (Rev. 1) and speak to the seven churches with supreme authority (Rev. 2-3). Moreover, because of that coronation he can also rule over the universe throughout the remaining years of Salvation History (Rev. 6-20), and then, following his Parousia, usher his glorified Bride into the full and final form of the Kingdom of God (Rev. 21-22). Thus, chapters 4-5 hold the book together, making it a unified celebration of the Person and Work of the High King.

For the purposes of our study, the most important—and most controversial—portion of the chart is bloc four. My name for it, together with its contents, suggest that chapters 6-20 are best understood as six separate apocalyptic cycles or recapitulations, each of which—in its own unique way, and for its own unique purposes—describes the course, character, and consummation of the High King’s heavenly reign.

Since that’s a mouthful, let me break it down a little. This large bloc (Rev. 6-20) is comprised of six sub-blocs or cycles (Rev. 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-19, and 20). But in each of the cycles the Holy Spirit is speaking about the same time frame: the time between Christ’s first and second advents; the time during which the exalted Christ reigns as High King of heaven and earth. This means that the fourth bloc of the Revelation—and the great bulk of the book—is actually made up of six separate apocalyptic cycles, with each one using different OT and NT ideas and images to cover the same historical ground: to rehearse or recapitulate the earthly impact of the heavenly reign of Christ.

How do we know this is true? How do we know that the six sub-blocs in this big bloc really do traverse the same historical ground?

While the answers are many, the most important is the way in which the cycles begin and end. In nearly every case it is quite clear that they begin with a symbolic representation of Christ’s session and/or the coming of his spiritual Kingdom on the Day of Pentecost. Similarly, in several cases it is clear that they end with a symbolic representation of the Last Battle; and in all cases it is clear that they end with a symbolic representation of the Parousia, the resurrection, and/or the last judgment. These phenomena are quite compelling, further opening up the deep structure of the book and the proper method of its interpretation.

Implications of the Structure

If this chart really does give us the deep structure of the Revelation, it carries with it two major implications for the interpretation of the book as a whole, and of chapter 20 in particular. Let us attend to them now.

First, if the chart is correct it means we cannot interpret Revelation 6-20 as the preterists do. They say that here the Spirit’s focus is largely, if not exclusively, on events that for us are already past. These events include the fall of Jerusalem, the tyrannical power of Rome, and the vicissitudes of the early Church at the hand of Jews and Romans. But if in fact the Spirit’s focus is on the era between Christ’s two advents, then obviously the preterist interpretation cannot be correct.

Similarly, if the chart is correct it means we cannot interpret Revelation 6-20 as the futurists do. They say that here the Spirit’s focus is largely, if not exclusively, on events that will occur towards or at the very end of the age. Yes, there are some differences among them. Moderate futurists like George Ladd say that these events will befall the Church. Dispensational futurists, like John MacArthur, say they will befall latter day Jews during a seven year Tribulation that begins after Christ has secretly come and taken his Church to heaven. But again, all futurists agree that chapters 6-20 are largely, if not entirely, fulfilled in the last of the last days. However, if these chapters are speaking of the entire Church Era, then obviously the futurist view cannot be correct either.

This brings us to a second and closely related implication. If the chart is correct it means that when the Holy Spirit uses a particular symbol to speak to God’s people, he is not (usually) referring to a concrete historical entity, whether a person, place, thing, or event. If our chart is correct, he cannot be. Rather, he must be referring to a kind of historical entity that all the saints will encounter over and again throughout the entire Church Era.

Let us consider an example. Some preterists say that when the Spirit speaks of the Beast (Rev. 13:1f) he is referring to that arch-persecutor of the early Church, the emperor Nero. On the other hand, most futurists say that when the Spirit speaks of the Beast he is referring to a personal Antichrist who will arise just prior to Christ’s return, whether to persecute the Church or ethnic Israel. If, however, we embrace the cyclical view, we immediately realize that it entails a broader and richer approach: an approach that is capable of affirming the element of truth in both the preterist and futurist views. For now we see that in speaking about the Beast, the Spirit is actually speaking about a particular kind of historical phenomenon—in this case the political or governmental face of Satan’s fallen world system, whenever and wherever it pops up in the course of Salvation History. It is a face that could be embodied in Nero, Domitian, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Ceausescu, Pol Pot, this or that Ayatollah, the (last) Antichrist, or any of the persecuting institutions that these people represent. And what is true of the Beast is true also of the False Prophet and the Harlot: Though their faces change from generation to generation, they are ever present in the world.

We find, then, that the cyclical view of Revelation 6-20 generates a particular hermeneutic; that is, a particular way of understanding and applying the symbols found in the book as a whole. Theologians refer to this as an idealist hermeneutic. On this view, the symbols in the Revelation do not stand for unique historical persons or events, but rather for general ideas or principles that will manifest themselves throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation, and therefore in any number of historical persons, places, things, or events. William Hendriksen, an enthusiastic advocate of this approach, applies it as follows:

The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles of human conduct and of divine moral government that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the new (Christian) dispensation.

Now, while this approach is extremely helpful, I would join Hendriksen in issuing two caveats.

First, the Revelation can and does speak about specific times and events in Salvation History. Yes, when speaking of the course and character of Christ’s heavenly reign it uses its symbols to address all Christians of all times. However, in speaking of events destined to occur at the end of the age, it uses its symbols to speak of historical events in which a relatively small handful of Christians will be involved. All Christians should be aware of these events, but not all will experience them. A brief look at Revelation 11:3ff will illustrate my point.

In Revelation 11:3-6 we learn about the spiritual career of the Two Witnesses. Described in imagery reminiscent of Moses and Elijah—but also of the disciples whom Jesus sent out two by two to preach the Gospel to Israel—they represent the witnessing Church. God calls them to prophesy (i.e., to preach the Gospel) for 1260 days, a number that symbolizes the entire Era of Gospel Proclamation as a season of exile, persecution, and divine provision (see 1 Kings 17:1f). So then: All Christians of all times can see themselves in the Two Witnesses.

When, however, we reach verses 7-13 the focus narrows. Now the Spirit is speaking concretely about the last generation of witnessing Christians. This generation will see the completion of the Great Commission (11:7). It will see the Beast—hitherto restrained from thwarting the Church’s mission—rise up out the abyss (Rev. 20:1-3), wage war against them, overcome them, and “kill” (i.e., thoroughly suppress) them (11:7-10). But this is also the generation that will see the return of Christ in glory, the resurrection of the dead, and the Last Judgment (11:11-19). Here, then, the symbols do indeed point to unique events set to occur in a unique portion of Salvation History. Here the universal Church cannot see herself (much as she might like to), but only that portion of the Church that will live and serve Christ during the days of the Last Battle.

This brings us to our second caveat. While it is true that the six cycles of Revelation 6-20 traverse the same historical ground, it is also that there are notable differences between them. In particular, the further we progress through the cycles, the more we learn about the Satanic powers operating behind the scenes of the great clash of the kingdoms, and about the human instruments they use to persecute the Church. Also, the further we progress through the cycles the more we receive clear visions and revelations of the Last Battle, the Parousia, the Resurrection, the Last Judgment, and the World to Come. Referring to this phenomenon as progressive parallelism, Hendriksen writes:

Although all the sections of the Apocalypse run parallel and span the period between the first and second comings of Christ . . . yet there is also a degree of progress. The closer we approach the end of the book the more our attention is directed to the final judgment and that which lies beyond it. The (several) sections are arranged, as it were, in an ascending, climactic order . . . The final judgment is first announced, then introduced, then finally described. Similarly, the new heavens and earth are described more fully in the final section than in those that precede it . . . The book reveals a gradual progress in eschatological emphasis.

So again: All six cycles of Revelation 6-20 give us the course, character, and consummation of the direct spiritual reign of the High King of Heaven and Earth. But they do not all have precisely the same contents or emphases. Also, while all of the contents of the cycles are meant for all Christians, not all of the events symbolized in the cycles will befall all Christians. By keeping these caveats in mind we shall be able to use the idealistic method of interpretation to good effect.

The third and final implication of our chart takes us deep into the heart of the GETD. If indeed chapter 20 properly falls into bloc four of the Revelation; if indeed, like the previous five cycles, it too describes the course and character of the High King’s heavenly reign, then obviously it cannot be speaking of a future earthly kingdom that is destined to appear after that reign. In short, if our chart really does give us the true structure of the Revelation, then the Revelation itself rules out premillennialism once and for all.

Ancillary Purpose: The Grand Finale in the Symphony of Scripture

Think for a moment about your favorite symphony. Now think about its final movement. What is it that makes the final movement into the symphony’s grand finale? Speaking personally, three simple answers come to mind.

First, it appears at the end of the symphony. There is no more music to come. Accordingly, this is the composer’s last opportunity to sum up his message and get it across with a final burst of artistic power and panache.

Secondly, it reprises all the themes heard in the previous movements. However, when it does, it does so “grandly.” That is, the composer skillfully and majestically weaves together all his earlier motifs so that we not only hear them again, but also hear them afresh, and with fresh power. We hear them in new, startling, and beautiful relations with one another. We hear them in such a way that the whole symphony is somehow poured into the last part of the symphony.

And thirdly, because it is a grand finale, it does not typically introduce a new musical theme. Instead, the composer devotes himself more or less exclusively to fresh, inspiring, and deeply impressive recapitulations of the old.

All three of these observations apply to the Revelation, and in a way that helps us understand it to the depths.

Like a grand finale, the Revelation appears at the end of the great symphony of biblical revelation. By God’s wise decree it is the last book of the Bible. What’s more, its contents positively cry out to us that it should be the last book, since it is so thoroughly taken up with the Last Things: the course and character of the Last Days, the Last Battle, the Last Resurrection, and the Last Judgment, the final two of which occur at the Last Coming of the Last Man. The claims of Church History’s false prophets notwithstanding, Spirit-taught Christians find it unthinkable that God, having given us a book like this, would give us any more. And indeed this is the testimony of the Revelation itself (Rev. 21:18-19). The Revelation is the Book of the End; therefore it rightly appears at the end of the Book (Rev. 1:8, 2:26, 21:6, 22:13).

Like a grand finale the Revelation also incorporates and artistically weaves together ideas, images, and texts from the preceding movements of Holy Scripture, whether the Old Testament or the New. Here biblical allusions abound: to the Garden of Eden, Moses, the Exodus, Elijah, Mt. Zion, the Temple, the birth of Jesus, the cruelty of Herod, the preaching of the disciples two by two, Christ’s resurrection, ascension, session, heavenly reign, and Parousia. Westcott and Hort counted nearly 400 references to the OT in the Revelation. Many say there are more. In Revelation 12 alone we find quotes from, or allusions to, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew, Luke, John, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Jude. Clearly, the Revelation is not simply historical narrative, law, poetry, gospel or epistle. Rather, it is something completely new under the biblical sun: A final prophetic word to the universal Church, clothed in raiment that weaves together all that has gone before it. As such, it is not only a prophetic word, but also the Grand Finale of All Scripture.

If so, the implications are important. If the Revelation really is the Grand Finale of All Scripture, we should not expect it introduce new themes (i.e., doctrines). It is not the purpose of a grand finale to introduce new themes; its purpose is to creatively recapitulate the old. And when we examine the Revelation we find that this is the case. Here there is nothing new, nothing other than what Christ and the apostles have already taught us in the DNT. There is nothing new about the Holy Trinity, the Creation, the Fall, the Eternal Covenant, the nature and structure of the Kingdom, or the Consummation at Christ’s coming again. Rather, we simply find the Holy Spirit speaking over and again about these old and well-established truths. However, when he speaks of them he does so in new and amazing ways: in beautiful, powerful, and supremely inspiring visions and symbols. Here he weaves together all that has gone before in Holy Scripture, even as he celebrates, one final time, the exaltation of him who is the grand theme of Holy Scripture: the High King of Heaven and Earth.

The application to our study is easy to see. If the Revelation really is the Grand Finale of All Scripture, is it likely that just a few measures prior to its end (i.e., in chapter 20) God would suddenly introduce a completely new eschatological theme (i.e., a future earthly millennium)? What if that theme had never appeared in the Revelation itself? What if it had never appeared in the DNT? What if it had never appeared in the OT? What if it could not be harmonized with the Revelation, the DNT, and the OT? And what if it threatened to destroy the harmony that previously existed between them?

In short, is it likely that God would destroy the Grand Finale of All Scripture by using Revelation 20 to introduce a new movement about a future millennial stage of the Kingdom of God?

My answer: Not likely. Not likely at all.


In this essay I have offered a short introduction to the Revelation as a whole in order to help readers better understand the 1000 years of Revelation 20. With that goal in mind, let me summarize what we’ve learned so far.

The book was written by the apostle John, a man in exile and under persecution. As a founding elder and emblem of the Church, it should not surprise us if Revelation 20 speaks of the Church in exile and under persecution (Rev. 4:4).

John wrote the book around 95 AD. Contrary to some preterist views, Revelation 20 cannot be about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The intended audience of the book is the universal Church, the purpose of the book is to instruct, exhort, and encourage the universal Church, and the theme of the book is the privileges and prerogatives of the High King of Heaven who rules over the cosmos for the good of the universal Church. It should not surprise us then if Revelation 20 addresses the Church, prophesies to the Church, and speaks of the destiny of Church during the course of High King’s reign.

As to its literary genre, the Revelation is a unique example of biblical apocalyptic. Like all apocalyptic it uses visions and symbols to discuss the course and character of Salvation History. Unlike all other apocalyptic, the meaning of the symbols is not hidden, but disclosed in the DNT. It should not surprise us then if the message of Revelation 20 is couched in symbols that are readily decoded by means of the NCH.

The structure of Revelation 6-20 is such that it gives us six cycles or recapitulations of the heavenly reign of Christ, which is first disclosed on the Mt. Everest of the Revelation: chapters 4-5. Since each of the first five cycles begins with historical events surrounding his session and concludes with events surrounding his Parousia, it should not surprise us if the sixth cycle, Revelation 20, does the same. Also, since the book as a whole gives us a progressive revelation of the High King’s reign during the Era of Gospel Proclamation, it should not surprise us if Revelation 20 uses symbolic language to describe the activity of Satan in history and the Last Battle that he will foment.

Finally, since the Revelation is not part of the DNT, but is instead the Grand Finale of All Scripture, it should not surprise us if Revelation 20 does not introduce new eschatological truth about a future millennium, but instead simply draws upon OT and NT Scripture to speak of its one great theme: The heavenly reign of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ.

Does Revelation 20 confirm our expectations, or will it surprises us after all? To find out, please click here.


1. In defense of an early date preterists cite verses in the Revelation stating that the events in view “must shortly come pass” (Rev. 1:1; 22:6), and that “the appointed time is near” (Rev. 1:3; 22:10). But these texts hardly prove an early date of composition or a strictly 1st century fulfillment of the prophecies. To begin with, the verses from chapter 22 state that all things, including the advent of the World to Come, must shortly come to pass, and that their time is near. So unless one is a full preterist, those verses rule out a strictly 1st century fulfillment of the book. More to the point, the progressive idealist interpretation of the book richly illumines the nuanced meaning of these expressions. Since the Revelation speaks to all believers of all times, it is indeed true that many of its predictions spoke to 1st century Christians, just as they would to believers of subsequent generations. As for the prophecies that speak of the end of the age (i.e., of the Last Battle, the Parousia, the Judgment, etc.), these too will soon come to pass, for against the backdrop of eternity a thousand years in God’s sight are like yesterday when it has passed by, and like a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8).

Liturgically speaking, I’ve made the rounds. Down through the years this septuagenarian has worshiped in—or observed the worship of—Pentecostal, Charismatic, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches. Also, over the decades during which I served as a pastor I continually mulled the New Testament (NT) parameters for worship on the Lord’s Day, trying hard to discern them accurately and practice them faithfully. Now, as I near the end of my journey, it has seemed good to share my best thoughts on Lord’s Day worship, and to craft a service of worship that I believe would be pleasing to God and edifying to his children.

Theological and Practical Foundations

Here in Part I of the essay I want to share my major premises: the theological and practical foundations upon which I have based my proposed liturgy. There are seven of them.

Lord’s Day Worship is Special

Worship on the Lord’s Day is quite special. Unlike other gatherings of God’s children, on this day the elders and members of a Christian body come together as a whole church (Acts 15:2, 22; 1 Cor. 11:17-18; 14:23, 26; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 10:25; 13:7). Also, the regulations for this assembly are different from—and more stringent than—those pertaining to smaller gatherings (1 Cor. 11:1-15 vs. 11:17-14:40; 1 Tim. 2:1-15).

But the uniqueness of Lord’s Day worship stems above all from its close association with the mystery of the Sabbath. Theological reflection on this subject is extensive, diverse, and sometimes controversial. For brevity sake, I will give my own view simply by citing a Statement of Faith that I wrote some years back:

We believe that the Sabbath Day, which in the beginning God set apart as a day of rest and worship for all mankind, and which at the giving of the Mosaic Law he instituted as a day of rest and worship for his OT people, stood as a type or picture of the eternal rest that he now offers to all men—and commands them to enter—through the gospel. / We believe that Christians do in fact enter this rest, first at the moment of saving faith, then more fully at the entrance of their spirits into heaven, and still more fully at the resurrection of the righteous at Christ’s return. / We believe that in order to underscore the perpetuity of the believer’s rest in Christ, the NT does not, by an ordinance, tie the worship of God to the Sabbath or any special day of the week. / But we also believe that through a holy tradition inaugurated by Christ himself on the day of his resurrection, and perpetuated in the practice of the early church, God’s people are invited and encouraged to designate the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day; that on that day they do well to assemble themselves together in order to celebrate and be refreshed in the spiritual rest God has granted them, through a reverent and joyful observance of the ordinances of NT worship; and that in so doing God will be pleased, Christ exalted, his people blessed, and the world confronted afresh with the good news of the gospel.1

In short, Lord’s Day worship is special because on that day God specially draws near to his people in order to remind them of, teach them about, and refresh them in, their eternal Sabbath rest in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord’s Day Worship is Important to God and Man

The worship of the Lord’s Day is important to the triune God. Scripture affirms that he takes great pleasure in his people (Psalm 149:4). Indeed, his people are his chosen dwelling place (1 Ki. 8:10-11; Psalm 132:5-7; Ezek. 43:5; 44:4; John 14:23; Acts 2:2; Rev. 21:3). Therefore, knowing their needs, and not unmindful of his own enjoyment, he delights to draw near to them on the Lord’s Day. In particular, Abba Father delights to gather his children to himself and take them up into his arms (Psalm 50:5, 149:4; Is. 43:2). His exalted Son, their heavenly Husband, delights to speak tenderly to his Bride, and to lay her weary head upon his vast and comforting bosom (Is. 40:1-3; John 13:23, 14:3, 17:24; Eph. 5). And the Holy Spirit, knowing all these things, delights to facilitate the holy visitation: to unveil and strengthen the eternal bond of love that unites the family of God. For these and other reasons, Lord’s Day worship is indeed important to the Three-in-One.

But it is even more important for man. For though God’s people have been justified, they are not yet fully sanctified. Though they are seated in heavenly places in Christ, they are still making an arduous journey through the howling wilderness of this present evil age (Gal. 1:4; Rev. 12:1ff). Therefore, their needs are great. Because they are weary, they need refreshing (Acts 3:19). Because they are pursued and persecuted, they need protection (Rev. 12:13-14). Because they are without (mature) understanding, they need teaching (Eph. 4:91-16). Because they are called, they need equipping (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Because they have faltered, they need exhortation, repentance, and reassurance (1 Cor. 11:27-32; 14:3). Because they are lonely, they need family; because they are lacking, they need the support of the family (Psalm 122; Acts 2:43-5). And because they are grateful and glad, they need a time and a place in which to express their gratitude and joy (1 Pet. 1:8). In sum, the saints are eager for Lord’s Day worship because they know that on that Day—through word, prayer, ordinance, and body ministry—they will yet again behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and so be transformed into his image from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18).

Lord’s Day Worship is Regulated 

Because God desires to meet with his people, and because their needs are so very great, he carefully regulates his own worship. In particular, he gives us detailed instructions concerning the attitudes, actions, and procedures that are proper to the gathering of the whole church. We may think of these regulations as borders with which he surrounds, creates, protects, and preserves a sacred space, ensuring that he himself may fully fill that space, and that in it his people may be fully edified and refreshed (Rev. 12:6, 14). He gives us regulations so that he may freely give us himself.

Concerning the attitudes that we are to bring to this gathering, the NT provides rich instruction. We are to come with understanding (Col. 1:9), gratitude (1 Tim. 2:1), joy (Matt. 13:44; Phil. 4:4), reverence (Heb. 12:28), humility (James 1:21), sincerity (Acts 2:46), confidence (Heb. 4:16), faith (James 1:6), and eager expectation (Matt. 18:20). We come in order to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). We come faithfully, in spite of what we’ve done or not done, and in spite of what we feel or don’t feel, always remembering that God is faithful, and that he is eager to meet both us and our needs (1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 10:25). And so, having put on these attitudes, we too come with eagerness, hoping and expecting to experience his glory filling the house (1 Kings 8:11; Ezek. 43:4; Acts 2:2)!

As for the actions of NT worship, they are far fewer than those of OT times, being carefully designed to facilitate the simplicity of worship in spirit and truth instituted by Christ, and now so supernaturally natural to the regenerate hearts of his flock (John 4:24; 2 Cor. 11:3). These actions include prayer; the reading, preaching, teaching, and prophesying of the Word of God; psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, sung with grace in our hearts to the Lord; the Lord’s Supper; and, on occasion, the administration of water baptism.

Again, these actions are regulated: The NT prescribes basic procedures for each one. As the procedures become familiar, the worshiper comes to rest in them, trusting that all things are indeed being done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). Thus resting, he is free to give himself fully to the Lord throughout all the service: to listen for his voice, and to wait for his touch. Regulated worship becomes liturgy, the work of the people; liturgy, in turn, becomes a  garden paradise where the people experience the work of God.

Lord’s Day Worship is Participatory and Charismatic     

Speaking personally, I cannot read 1 Corinthians 12-14 and fail to conclude that here the apostle’s primary concern is to regulate the worship of the Lord’s Day. Yes, he begins by laying some theological groundwork, by unveiling the Church as the Spirit-filled Body of Christ, each of whose members is charismatically gifted for the continual edification of the Body. And yes, for this reason some of the gifts mentioned here will not typically operate in a worship service (e.g., helps, mercies, administrations, healings, miracles; cf. Rom. 12:3-8). But surely the main thrust of these chapters is to educate the saints on the gifts of the Spirit with a view to their proper exercise in the gatherings of the whole church (1 Cor. 14:23).

Accordingly, in our thinking about Lord’s Day worship we must take seriously the words of the apostle in 1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then, brothers, is the sum of the matter? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” In light of this command, I would therefore ask my Reformed brethren: Can a biblically faithful church exclude this text from its understanding of the regulative principles of corporate worship? Does it not clearly tell us that Lord’s Day worship is participatory (i.e. each one has something to contribute, though not necessarily every Sunday) and charismatic (i.e. each one contributes that something in the exercise of his spiritual gift)?

My cessationist brethren will balk at this claim, believing as they do that with the closure of the NT canon, and with the passing of the foundational apostles, God has permanently withdrawn some of the more supernatural gifts. I cannot enter into that debate here. Suffice it to say that for nearly 50 years I have been unable to find a single NT text affirming the withdrawal of any charismatic gift. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 I find quite the opposite, since here the apostle depicts the charismata as essential equipment for the Church Militant as she makes her difficult pilgrimage towards the fullness of her redemption in the age to come.

How so? The key words are “now” and “then”. Now, in the long Era of Gospel Proclamation, the Church needs the gifts of the Spirit in order to fulfill her mission. Now she needs to prophesy, speak in tongues, teach, etc., so that the saints may be gathered in, and the Body built up (1 Cor. 13:8). However, as important as the gifts are, they reflect only a partial knowledge of God, and are therefore only temporary. For when “the perfect” comes—not the close of the NT canon, but the return of Christ, the consummation, and the life of the age to come (1 Cor. 1:7)—then her partial knowledge will fail, cease, and pass away (1 Cor. 13:8-9). Then, having graduated into her eternal adulthood, she will put away her “childish” things—her childish ways of knowing, speaking, and reasoning—for then she will see face-to-face; then she will fully know, just as she is known (1 Cor. 13:11-13). If, then, it is essential for the Church to pass through her spiritual childhood, it is also essential that she permanently possess the distinguishing marks of her spiritual childhood: the panoply of spiritual gifts.

All that said, the closure of the NT canon is indeed of great importance. It enables us to identify the various spiritual gifts, and to exercise them properly in their appropriate settings. With reference to the worship of the Lord’s Day, it enables us to prioritize the ministry of the Word (i.e. Scripture reading, preaching, teaching, prophecy) with a view to the edification of the church (John 17:17; 1 Cor. 14:26). It enables us to judge the doctrinal and ethical integrity of the various ministries of the Word (1 Cor. 14:29). And it enables leaders, through the exercise of their own spiritual gifts, to structure the Lord’s Day worship in such a way as to incorporate all its elements, while at the same time leaving ample room for the move of the Spirit and the spontaneous participation of various members of the congregation.2

Lord’s Day Worship Specially Regulates the Verbal Participation of Women

This brings us to an especially challenging part of our discussion. The NT clearly places certain restrictions on the verbal participation of women in the Lord’s Day gathering of the whole Church. Pressured by the surrounding culture, modern theologians fiercely debate the meaning and application of the relevant texts, with the result that different churches have settled on widely different policies (1 Cor. 14:34-36; 1 Tim. 2:9-15). My own reading, which aligns with traditional Catholic and Protestant interpretations, is that sisters in Christ may freely participate in congregational singing and in the corporate recitation of prayers, Scripture, or creeds (yet another good reason to embrace all these practices). They may not, however, engage in any form of solo speech: They may not teach, preach, prophesy, pray (aloud), speak in tongues, interpret a tongue, read Scripture, ask questions, or make announcements.

It should go without saying that in giving us these guidelines God is in no way denigrating the value, intelligence, or spirituality of his daughters, who, just like men, are created in his own image and likeness, loved, and redeemed in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Nor are the regulations meant to exclude women from all verbal ministry, since a number of other NT texts authorize them to teach, pray, and prophesy in settings other than the gatherings of the whole church (Acts 2:17; 18:26; 1 Cor. 11:1-16; Titus 2:3-5).

Why, then, does God mandate these special restrictions? A close reading of NT teaching on gender relations makes it clear that the rules are designed, above all, to reflect—and to reinforce in the hearts of his people—God’s creation order for the sexes (1 Tim. 2:11-15). By his wise decree—which is meant to image the mystery of Christ and the Church—man is the spiritual “head” of woman: the authority over her (1 Cor. 11:2-16; Eph. 5:22-33). In marriage, in the family, in the church, and indeed in the outer worlds of business and government, God has given to men the responsibility—and with that, the authority—to lead, always with a view to the protection and provision of those under their care.

Accordingly, when a woman speaks out in church she is inverting the creation order by displacing the authorized leader(s) of the meeting, replacing him (them) with herself, and (if only momentarily) setting all the men in attendance under her authority. This problem is especially acute when a woman presumes to teach or prophesy, since the men will feel themselves to be under the authority of God’s Word, but will balk at being under the authority of the woman bringing it. Paul, saturated with divine law and deeply established in biblical sensibilities, startles us moderns by declaring that such an inversion is disgraceful, implying that when the illicit inversion is both performed and permitted ignominy rightly falls on the woman, her husband, the elders, and the men in the church—all of whom have had their part in turning the world upside down (1 Cor. 14:35).

There are practical considerations as well. If a woman happens to misspeak, she will not only dishonor her husband, but also may oblige the elder in charge to correct her in front of her husband and the entire congregation—a needless embarrassment and further inversion that Paul surely wanted to avoid.

It should also be noted from 1 Timothy 2:14 that unless a woman is fully submitted to her husband, she, like mother Eve, is especially vulnerable to deception, and therefore to propagating deception, in the event that she is allowed to speak in church.

Finally, we must honestly admit that a solitary woman speaking in church will necessarily attract attention to herself, which in turn can stimulate sexual thoughts in the men (who are more visually oriented than women), thereby distracting them from the worship of the Lord. This, I think, is why Paul urges the sisters to dress modestly and discreetly when they come to church (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4). The words of the apostle display great practical wisdom, a wisdom that, when applied, will enable us to avoid all sorts of problems, and so to preserve good order and peace in the churches.

I am all too aware that in our day these regulations are highly counter-cultural, and therefore circumvented by theologians and pastors alike. Accordingly, it will take extraordinary wisdom, love, patience, and courage for church leaders to explain and implement them, and for God’s men and women to submit to them. But if they love the Lord, and if they desire the fullest possible manifestation of his presence and power in the worship service, they will do so eagerly and gladly.3

Lord’s Day Worship Honors the History and Accomplishments of the Church Triumphant

In the Lord’s Day worship the Church Militant joins with the Church Triumphant before the throne of God, in order to worship, praise, petition, and receive from our triune Creator and Redeemer (Rev. 4-5). Because this is so, it seems fitting that the Church Militant should honor the Church Triumphant by incorporating into her own worship the forms and contents that her predecessors developed through their own prayerful interaction with the Word of God. Yes, we must do this carefully, striving to set aside anything that we find to be unbiblical. But our natural bias, born out of love and respect for the work of God in former times, should be to include from the past as much as we honestly can, so that the worshiping Church of our own time may feel an abiding spiritual connection with our Catholic and Protestant forefathers.

In the service of worship below I have sought to do this very thing. With an eye both to Scripture and Church tradition, I have created a space for preparing our hearts for worship, for a scriptural call to worship, for the public reading of Scripture, for the exaltation of the gospel reading for the day, for a season of charismatic ministry and free prayer, for the passing of the peace, for the teaching and prophesying of the Word of God, for private confession of sin, for corporate gathering at the Lord’s Table, for a glad confession of our evangelical faith, for a closing benediction, and—through it all—for making joyful melody in our hearts to the Lord. It is through such historically sensitive and inclusive liturgies that the Church Militant, on the Lord’s Day, will find herself seated together in heavenly places with the Church Triumphant, blessedly participating in the eternal worship of God.

Lord’s Day Worship is Regulated but not Rigid

Reading texts like Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and 1 Timothy 2, it is easy enough to discern the basic elements and regulations for the Lord’s Day worship of God. What is not so easy is to picture exactly how the early church put these things into practice. After mulling the matter for many years, I have concluded that this ambiguity is purposeful. Though he could easily have done so, God decided against inspiring his apostles to impose a single liturgy upon the universal Church. Instead, alongside the various elements and regulations of worship, he granted church leaders a measure of liberty to craft liturgies suitable to their own circumstances, needs, and understanding. Here’s how the authors of the London Baptist Confession express it: “We recognize that some circumstances concerning the worship of God . . . are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian wisdom, following the general rules of the Word, which must always be observed” (LBC 1:6).

This studied NT ambiguity helps us to understand what we see all around us: different folks worshiping in different ways. So long as all is done scripturally, this appears to be acceptable to God. Thus, some worship services will be more simple, others more complex; some shorter, others longer; some more oriented to charismatic spontaneity, others to liturgical formality; some more expressive, others more reserved. Since the NT does not mandate weekly communion at the Lord’s Table, some churches observe this ordinance monthly, some quarterly, and some annually. However, Acts 2:42, 20:7, and the placement and prominence of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 in Paul’s three chapters on church order certainly seem to favor weekly participation. Perhaps if we partook of the Lord’s Supper more often we would find ourselves desiring to do so more often.  Let each elder board be fully persuaded in its own mind (Rom. 14:5); and let all elder boards do all things decently and in good biblical order (1 Cor. 14:40).

A Service of Worship for the Lord’s Day

Here, then, is my “dream” Lord’s Day worship service. As you will see, I have included a number of comments along the way in order to clarify what I have in mind for each element of the service. Very importantly, this is but one of many possible services. No doubt it reflects my own personal history, gifts, and tastes. Nevertheless, because it seeks faithfully to incorporate all the elements and all the regulations of NT worship, I dare to hope that it will prove helpful, whether to you who are seeking a place of worship for yourself and your family, or to church leaders seeking to craft a rich service of worship for the Lord and his people.

I. WELCOME (Brother)

A. Welcome
B. Announcements
C. Invitation to Prepare our Hearts for Worship

Comments: As people gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, they love to visit. This is an integral part of the fellowship of the saints. To facilitate it, I recommend no background music prior to the beginning of the service (this from a hearing-impaired brother who struggles in pre-service conversations). / One or two minutes before the service begins the musicians should play (but not sing) a hymn. This signals to the worshipers that it is time to be seated, quiet down, and prepare one’s heart for worship. / A brother opens the service by welcoming both the saints and the visitors, giving all necessary information to the latter. He then briefly shares essential announcements, directing worshipers to the bulletin or church website for further information. / Finally, he calls for a moment of silence in which the worshipers may prepare their hearts for their meeting with the Lord (Is. 41:1; Hab. 2:20).

Special Note: Here and throughout this outline you will notice that the brothers always lead. My view is that several different ones should do so: elders, fathers, husbands, older singles, and mature youth and boys. This practice adds participation, variety, and zest to the service. Even more importantly, it aligns the service with God’s creation order for the sexes, and with his rules concerning the verbal participation of women. As a result, it provides the Holy Spirit with a special opportunity to impress upon men their role as leaders in the family, the church, and the world; to bless godly sisters, as they watch the relevant men in their lives stepping up to do this very thing; and to remind the sisters once again of the privilege God has given them to image the Church to the world by freely submitting to the godly men in their lives, even as the Church submits herself to Christ.


A. Scriptural Call to Worship
B. Prayer of Invocation

Comments: The call to worship should include a biblical text in which God summons his people and/or the nations to come and worship him (e.g. Ps. 95:6; Isaiah 55:1-3). It is led by a brother, but could well involve an antiphonal reading of the text (e.g. leader-congregation or brothers-sisters). Again, these options have the great advantage of enabling the sisters to participate aloud. / Following the call to worship, the brother will pray, thanking the Lord for this special opportunity to worship him, and asking his blessing upon the gathering.4

III. WORSHIP IN SONG, Round #1 (Brother)

A. Song #1
B. Song #2

Comments: The New Covenant is a marriage covenant, and therefore a covenant of great joy (John 2:1-11, 15:11; 16:24; 17:13). Accordingly, at its very heart it involves celebration, music, and song (Rev. 5:9; 14:3). / My view is that in the Lord’s Day service the songs should be plentiful, giving God ample opportunity to stir the hearts of his children, and the children ample opportunity to pour out their hearts to their God (Psalm 62:8). / As for musical leadership and accompaniment, I believe a brother should lead the worship at all times, but that sisters may participate in the worship team. Ideally, the worship team will be located in the back of the sanctuary, or at least to the side of the Lord’s Table or pulpit, so that all attention is focused, not on the team, but on the Lord and the words of the song. If sisters must be visible, they should be very modestly dressed, so as to present no distractions to the men. The music should be simple and relatively unobtrusive, so that emphasis falls upon the lyrics of the song and the blended voices of the congregation. / The first round of songs will normally consist of joyful hymns of praise to God as Creator and Provider. All hymns should be carefully chosen or approved by the elders. Ideally, the hymns will significantly align with the theme of the sermon, which should become the theme of the entire service. Thy lyrics must be theologically sound, and, as a general rule, God-centered rather than man-centered. They should celebrate, above all, the Person and Work of the Holy Trinity in Creation and Redemption, and how these affect us sinful but beloved human beings. / Most of the songs should be familiar; new songs should be repeated two or three Sunday’s in a row; the melodies of the songs should be memorable, and the accompanying music beautiful. / Certain hymns and choruses cry out for clapping; but in the interest of truly congregational worship, the worship leader alone should initiate it (Psalm 47:1). / Since percussion instruments naturally call attention to themselves, I advise against their use. If they must be used, let it be as unobtrusively as possible. / Special music by a soloist, a quartet, or a choir seems best suited for informal gatherings. In the worship of the Lord’s Day, the congregation itself is the soloist and the choir.5


A. OT Reading (Law, Psalms, Prophets) (Brother)
B. NT Reading A (Acts/Epistles/Revelation) (Brother)
C. NT Reading B: (Gospel) (Brother; All Stand)

Comments: The NT commends the public reading of Scripture on the Lord’s Day (1 Tim. 4:13; Rev. 1:3). Wisely, many of our forefathers decided to implement this rule by reading first from the OT, then from the Acts, the epistles, or the Revelation, and finally from the gospels, a comprehensive approach whose conclusion is specially designed to honor our Lord. There are, however, a variety of ways to enjoy the public reading of Scripture. / I believe the teaching elder should choose the day’s Scripture texts, ideally with a view to communicating the theme of his soon-coming sermon. / While at this juncture congregational and antiphonal reading is possible, I think it preferable for two or three different brothers to read the day’s texts. Speaking personally, I find it encouraging to see and hear young men and mature boys giving the readings, a practice that significantly involves them in worship, and helps to train them in biblical manhood. / Those chosen to read the texts should practice beforehand, so that the reading is slow, smooth, audible, and confident. / In harmony with ancient Church tradition, the congregation should stand for the Gospel reading of the day.


A. Song # 3
B. Song #4

Comments: This round of songs, while still celebratory, begins to focus more on God’s redemptive purpose and plan in the Person and Work of Christ. Songs in this set may be slower and more contemplative, tilting towards personal expressions of grateful love, longing, and adoration.


A. Prophecy, etc. (Brothers only)
B. Free Prayer (Brothers only)
C. Silent Prayer (Brothers and Sisters)
D. The Lord’s Prayer Aloud (Brothers and Sisters)
E. Song #5

Comments: In this portion of the service, which could take as few as 15 minutes or as many as 30, we specially invite the Lord, by his Spirit, to move among his people, prompting them to charismatic ministry and prayer (Rev. 1:12-13). / Since this portion of the service requires careful leadership and oversight, it should be led by an elder. / During the initial time for prophecy, two or three brothers may take 2-5 minutes each to bring a short word from the Lord. To ensure the integrity of such ministries, the brothers must be members of the church in good standing. Per 1 Corinthians 14:3, their prophecies should be words of edification, exhortation, and comfort, delivered from, or in accordance with, the words of Scripture. NT prophetic diction does not involve the Lord (allegedly) speaking through the prophet in the first person. Rather, the brothers speak in ordinary conversational manner, sharing the message they believe the Lord has laid on their hearts, humbly recognizing that their words may contain defects. / The people themselves will judge these prophecies for conformity to scriptural truth (1 Thess. 5:19-21). If necessary, an elder may add a supplementary, corrective, or qualifying word. / Based on my reading of 1 Corinthians 12-14, and especially of 14:26, I believe this portion of the service should be reserved primarily for prophesying, but could also include a short teaching (i.e. words of wisdom and knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8; 13:8-10), a supernatural tongue with (mandatory) interpretation, or a song (sung or led by a brother). While the Spirit may indeed suddenly grant a revelation to a brother during the service (1 Cor. 14:26), there is nothing in Scripture to say that the Lord could not do so hours or even days earlier, giving him time to prepare his remarks. / The season of free prayer is led by an elder, who briefly states the guidelines and perhaps suggests topics, and then opens the meeting for the men to pray aloud (1 Tim. 2:8). The men may pray as the Spirit leads, but as a rule will offer prayers of thanksgiving and adoration to God, and then intercede for temporal rulers, missionaries, and the special needs of the church family (1 Tim. 2:1-2). / I recommend closing this portion of the meeting by inviting the sisters to join with the men in a moment of silent prayer and intercession to God, after which, as led by the elder, the whole church may offer the Lord’s Prayer aloud. / I believe that prayers for physical healing or other special needs are best offered in a prayer room after the church service. One or more of the elders should be on hand to pray with those who come, though other church members, with a special gift for intercession, should be present as well.


A. The Passing of the Peace
B. Song #6

Comments: The Passing of the Peace is an ancient tradition, now commonly practiced in liturgically oriented churches. During this short break in the worship service the people stand, shake a neighbor’s hand, and say, “Peace be with you,” to which the neighbor then replies, “And with you also”. When performed sincerely, this little ritual is a beautiful manifestation of the fellowship of the saints, and of the exchange of grace that continually occurs in God’s family (1 Cor. 12:4-31). / As a rule, this portion of the service will last from 3-5 minutes, giving worshipers a mini-opportunity to stand, pass the peace, greet a newcomer, and briefly visit. / The beginning of Song # 6 is a signal for the congregation to re-assemble for the sermon.6

VIII. SERMON (Teaching/Preaching Elder)

A. Sermon
B. Brief Season(s) of Q and A (Brothers Only)

Comments: In evangelical circles, which commonly prioritize the Word of God, the sermon tends to be the climax of the service. In Catholic circles, which always prioritize the administration of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper is the climax. I incline to the Catholic position, but for evangelical reasons. In the sermon, the elder will bring the Word of the Lord to the people; but this is only in preparation for the climax, when he brings the people to the Lord of the Word, and then steps aside (a beautiful and healthy exercise in Christian humility). / I do not believe the Sunday sermon should be an in-depth Bible study, a ministry better accomplished in settings where time limitations are not a factor, and where extended dialog can take place. Rather, it is a special opportunity for leaders to exercise one (or more) of three scriptural charisms: gospel proclamation (preaching), gospel instruction (teaching), and gospel encouragement and exhortation (prophecy). Depending on the nature of his spiritual gift(s), the preaching elder will typically major in one of these charisms, and minor in the others. In larger churches with multiple elders, this fact of charismatic life argues for letting differently gifted elders preach at different times in order to meet different spiritual needs. / As a rule, the sermon should last 20-30 minutes, thus leaving ample time for the church to linger at the Lord’s Table. The preacher will normally close with a word of prayer, thanking the Lord for the good gifts celebrated in the sermon, and asking him to help the people walk in their practical applications. / Again, it is ideal that each Lord’s Day service have a clear theme. This can be briefly stated even in the Welcome, reflected in the Scripture readings (one of which will normally be the text for the day’s sermon), and opened up in the sermon itself. / Per 1 Corinthians 14:35, the preaching elder should leave room along the way, or at the end of the sermon, for short comments and questions from the brothers. If sisters have comments or questions, they can share them with their husbands at home, visit briefly with the preaching elder after church, or (better yet) participate in an elder-led discussion of the sermon after lunch.


A. Welcome to the Lord’s Table
B. Fencing of the Table: Words to Seekers, Words to Saints
C. Invitation to Private Confession of Sin
D. Consecration, Distribution, Corporate Sharing of the Elements (Song #7)
E. Corporate Confession of the Faith / Scriptural Words of Assurance of Forgiveness and Salvation
F. Final Song of Celebration (Song #8)

Comments: Again, I think it wise, both by word and practice, to train God’s people to view their time at the Lord’s Table as the climax of the service of worship.7 / We honor the sanctity of the Lord’s Table, and best serve both seekers and saints, by fencing it. To do so is first to graciously ask inquiring non-Christians not to participate, but instead to carefully consider the deep meaning of this rite. It is also to invite the saints, during a moment or two of silent prayer, to examine their hearts, and then privately confess and forsake any specific sins for which the Spirit may be convicting them (1 Cor. 11:28). An anointed sermon will often lead to such introspection, confession, and prayer.8 Elders should advise those who are unable or unwilling to forsake their sin to abstain from participating. But they should also remind honest strugglers that their divine Host warmly invites them to his table just as they are, so that they may receive the True Food by which to fight the good fight of faith. / There are a number of possible procedures for consecrating, distributing, and sharing the communion elements (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-26). While approaches will differ, NT testimony concerning the one Loaf given to the one Body argues that the saints should partake of the elements together, thereby manifesting and underscoring the unity of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17). / During the distribution of the elements it is a great blessing to sing a hymn celebrating the atoning Work of Christ and its glorious fruits. / I believe that the moments immediately following our time at the Lord’s Table are ideally suited for a “good confession” (i.e., affirmation) of our Christian faith. The specific words may be drawn directly from Scripture, or from the classic creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the historic Church.9 The confession should (usually) be chosen in such a way as to strengthen the believer’s assurance of the forgiveness of his sins, his justification, and his final salvation. This is accomplished through confessions that focus our attention on the all-sufficient work of Christ, and on the once-and-for-all justification that God grants his people at the moment of saving faith. / Following the corporate confession of faith, the elder will invite the congregation to stand and sing Song #8, which should be a rousing celebration of the finished work of Christ, the blessings it bestows, and the joyful hope it imparts to all who believe.


A. Final Reminders (Offering, etc.)
B. Benediction
C. Doxology
D. Dismissal

Comments: One of the elders will close the service by reminding the people of special matters. This will likely include his inviting both seekers and saints to the prayer room (or corner) of the church, where they can meet with leaders or mature members for counsel and prayer. It will also include his encouraging the saints to worship the Lord by placing their offerings in the special box located near the entrance to the church. / Drawing upon Scripture, the leader will ask the congregation to stand; then he will declare a benediction over them, join with them in singing a doxology, and send them out into the world to love and serve the Lord. (But not before they take time to enjoy refreshments and a post-service season fellowship!)


I want to conclude my meditation with some observations of a largely practical nature.

Regarding the place of children in the worship of the Lord’s Day, I believe that leaders and parents should strive to include them as much as possible. The Lord has given us his mind on the subject: “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:14). I can think of no finer place for a child to meet the Lord, or to receive memorable impressions of the beauty of Christ and his Church, than the Lord’s Day worship service. With maximal participation, and with Spirit-led leaders moving things steadily along, children will find the service interesting. I do indeed favor dismissing children for age-level teaching during the time of the sermon. But beyond that, by all means let them join the family, and let us adults show them how much we enjoy their presence and participation. / I appreciate those wise parents who graciously train their children to sit still, and (at the appropriate times) to be quiet during the worship service. I appreciate the patience and forbearance of the rest of the saints, when some of the little children fail to do so. And I greatly appreciate church leaders who provide a nursery and cry room, to which Dads or Moms can swiftly take their little ones if and when they start to disrupt the service.

From 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 it appears that love feasts were commonly held just prior to the saint’s time at the Lord’s Table (Jude 1:12). However, the NT does not mandate this practice, but only mentions it. I am aware of at least one medium-size church that concludes its formal worship service, and then invites all who so desire, first to eat lunch, and then to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In smaller churches, like the house churches of NT times, this is a viable practice. But since many in a larger congregation will not be present, this practice does not seem to manifest or promote the unity of the Body as the Lord intended. Let each leader be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Again, I very much favor the idea of the saints eating lunch together after church, and then discussing the sermon. It seems a shame to me that a pastor will spend several hours carefully crafting a sermon, and then, having delivered it, simply move on with his flock to the next thing! Surely an excellent sermon is worthy of an excellent discussion, one in which all church members may share their thoughts and ask questions of the preacher. Might not such a discussion seal a pastor’s message in someone’s heart for a lifetime? If so, why not offer it?

The total time for the service outlined above is around 2 hours. Yes, that’s a stretch for many American Christians, but perhaps American Christians could use some stretching, seeing that longer gatherings were actually quite common in days of old. Again, if the service is variegated, if there is frequent congregational participation, and if leaders—sensitive to the promptings of the Lord—keep in step with his life-giving Spirit, the two hours should fly by. That said, any number of exigencies may require a shorter service, and there is nothing in the NT to forbid it, so long as all necessary things are done decently and in order.

In conclusion, let me urge all involved—elders, worship leaders, and church members—to prioritize the worship of the Lord’s Day. It is entirely possible that apart from one’s daily quiet time with the Lord, there is no more important activity for a Christian man or woman. For again, here the Father desires specially to gather his children to himself; and here the High King of the Church desires specially to walk among the golden lampstands, and to minister to his Bride (Rev. 1:12-13). Therefore, in preparing for the Lord’s Day, let all the leaders aspire to excellence. Let them stand in the counsel of the Lord, earnestly praying for a revelation of his heart and mind for the Sunday ahead (Jer. 23:22, 1 Cor. 14:27). And with that revelation in mind, let them carefully select the call to worship, the Scripture readings, the hymns, the contents of message, and the ministry at the Lord’s Table. Prior to the Lord’s Day, let them communicate with their people, urging them to prepare for it, and helping them to do so. And together with the whole church, let them pray for God’s richest blessing on the gathering. Surely he is eager to bestow it. And if we, on our part, do all we can to prepare the holy ground, surely the Holy One will meet us there.



O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness, most beautiful, most bright:
On Thee, the high and lowly, through ages joined in tune,
Sing holy, holy, holy, to the great God Triune.

On Thee, at the creation, our worship had its birth;
On Thee, for our salvation, Christ rose from depths of earth;
On Thee, our Lord victorious, the Spirit sent from heaven,
And thus on Thee most glorious, a triple light was given.

Thou art a port protected, from storms that round us rise;
A garden intersected, with streams of Paradise;
Thou art a cooling fountain in life’s dry, dreary sand;
From thee, like Pisgah’s mountain, we view our Promised Land.

Thou art a holy ladder, where angels go and come;
Each Sunday finds us gladder, and nearer to our home;
A day of sweet refection, thou art a day of love,
A day of resurrection, from earth to things above.

Today on weary nations the heavenly manna falls;
To holy convocations the silver trumpet calls,
Where Gospel light is glowing, with pure and radiant beams,
And living water flowing, with soul refreshing streams.

New graces ever gaining from this our day of rest,
We reach the rest remaining to spirits of the blessed.
To Holy Ghost be praises, to Father, and to Son;
The church her voice upraises, to Thee, blest Three in One.



1. This portion of the Statement of Faith is based upon the following Scripture texts: Gen. 2:3, Ex. 20:8, Mark 2:28, Col. 2:16-17 / Heb. 4:3-11, Rev. 14:13, 20:4-6 / Rom. 14:5, Col. 2:16 / Mt. 28:1, Mark 16:2, John 20:19, Acts 20:7, Rev. 1:10; Isa. 56:1-5, 58:13-14, 1 Cor. 16:2, Heb. 10:26; Isa. 56:1-5, 58:13-14, Mark 2:27-28, 1 Cor. 11:26. To view the entire Statement, click here.

2. For a thorough introduction to the gifts of the Spirit from a continuationist perspective, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1994), chapters 52, 53.

3. The exegesis of the texts dealing with women’s verbal participation in the whole-church gathering is highly contested. To read interpretations that I have found convincing, please click here, here, and (especially) here.

4. To read a list of Scripture texts appropriate for the call to worship, please click here.

5. In 1 Corinthians 14:24 we find Paul saying, among other things, “ . . . each one has a psalm.” While the apostle, in making this statement, likely had in mind an individual brother leading out in a psalm or hymn, I find nothing here to preclude the ministry of a chosen worship leader and his musical team, just so long as the psalms they “have” have been prayerfully received from the Lord.

6. To read a short article on the history and practice of Passing the Peace, please click here.

7. This emphasis and place of honor is based on the richness of the meaning of the ordinance. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial, since here the saints are invited to remember and contemplate his substitutionary death in their behalf (Luke 22:9; 1 Cor. 11:24-25); it is a proclamation, since it brings both saints and sinners before the (heart of) the biblical gospel (1 Cor. 11:26; 15:3-8); it is a prophecy, since it looks forward to the Lord’s return and the eternal Marriage Feast of the Lamb (1 Cor. 11:26; Rev. 19:9); and finally, it is also a fresh participation in the body and blood of Christ, in the sense that here the Holy Spirit pours into the expectant souls of believers that spiritual refreshing which is the fruit of the broken body and shed blood of Christ (John 6:56; Acts 3:19; 1 Cor. 10:16). Here, indeed, is a feast of fat things on the LORD’s holy mountain (Ex. 24:9-11; Is. 25:6)! How shall we not come to this table as often as we can?

8. I do not favor pre-written confessions of specific sins, seeing that this practice, which is common in Reformed liturgies, can actually force believers to sin by confessing sins that they have not committed in the week prior, and for which they are not under conviction by the Spirit! Also, I do not believe that leaders (or liturgies) should encourage believers to ask God for forgiveness of sins. This practice tends strongly to undermine their grip on the once-for-all character of their justification. When they trusted in Christ, God forgave them all their sins, once and for all (time). When they trusted in Christ, God also imputed Christ’s perfect righteousness to them, once and for all (time). This is the clear teaching of Scripture (John 5:24; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:7; 9:12). Therefore, in light of these tremendous truths—so easily forgotten or misunderstood—I believe leaders should train their people simply to confess any specific sin for which they are presently under conviction, resolve with God’s help to forsake it, and then thank him once again for having so graciously forgiven them for it when they trusted in Christ. The Lord’s Day worship service must never undermine the saints’ grip on their justification, but instead do all it can to strengthen it.

9. In the interests of truth and clarity, it may necessary for the elders slightly to modify one or more of the ancient confessions, in order to align it with their best understanding of Scripture and the church’s Statement of Faith.



Are we living in the last days?

Yes, I know we are, for the Bible says that we have been ever since the Son of God came into the world to purchase our redemption (Heb. 1:1-2).

But are we living in “the last of the last days”? Are we nearing the final scenes of world history, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Consummation of all things?

Well, only God knows. Nevertheless, I will say that I think we are; and in this essay I want to explain why, and also why I  believe that amillennial eschatology alone will adequately prepare us for them.

The Last of the Last Days    

For two millennia the Church has encountered what our Lord referred to as the beginning of birth pains (Matt. 24:8). These include wars, rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, the deceptive teachings of false christs and false prophets, and the ebb and flow of persecution. All such things are part and parcel of the Great Tribulation, out of which the sovereign God has been faithfully rescuing his beloved children for generations, uniting them by faith to his Son, and planting them safely on the Zion up above, where they eagerly await the glories of the Zion up ahead (John 4:22-24; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:18-24; Rev. 7).

Today, however, the universal Church is witnessing a notable intensification of the birth pains. Christendom is in collapse. European churches stand largely empty. Whole denominations, rich with Christian history and culture, are now infected with the spirit of the age and slide into compromise and apostasy. Outspoken (and soft-spoken) atheism is on the rise, even in America, a historic citadel of the faith. The Western intelligentsia speaks openly of a “post-Christian” society. As in the days of Noah and Lot, world culture swiftly descends into lawlessness: gratuitous violence, murder, polymorphous sexual immorality, theft, kidnapping, slavery, drug abuse, lying, profanity, greed, fraud, occultism, fanaticism, and anarchy. Meanwhile, the persecution of biblically faithful Christians increases. Courts, universities, employers, political parties, and media outlets drive believers to the margins of society. Freedom of religious speech, practice, and assembly is curtailed, if not canceled. While estimates differ widely, all agree that thousands of believers are dying annually for their faith. Day by day the souls of the martyrs flow into heaven, taking their place beneath the altar of God (Rev. 6:10).

But in the midst of all this gloom there is good news as well. Just as God promised, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Yes, the true spiritual Church is a little flock, but the glory of the Lord remains upon her. She alone is the one true hope of the world: a city set upon a hill, a light shining in the deep darkness that covers the peoples. Through the global preaching of the gospel, men and women of every nation are coming to the brightness of her light and streaming into the City of God. Amidst the raging storm the Lord is still building his Church (Is. 60 1-3; Matt. 16:18, 24:14; Rom. 5:20).

But are the birth pains really coming to an end? Has a world mysteriously pregnant with eternal life reached transition? Is the day of delivery upon us? Are the Parousia, the Consummation, and the rebirth of the universe now at hand, even at the door (Matt 24:33)?

No and yes. No, because we have not yet witnessed three special signs that our Lord taught us to look for—signs that herald the imminence of the end. But yes, if we pause to consider why they may soon be upon us.

Consider first the Great Commission. The Lord said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14). Has the Church reached the whole world with the gospel? No, not yet. According to the Joshua Project, there are currently more than 17,000 people groups in the world, of which about 7,000 remain technically “unreached.” This is over 40% of all people groups, 2.9 billion souls. It is a staggering number, largely representing the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Communists, and animists who inhabit the so-called “10/40 window.”

We must remember, however, that the gap between “reached” and “unreached” has never been smaller; that the pool of potential missionaries has never been larger; that people movements are continually springing up in many lands; and that modern advances in communications technology are bringing the gospel to multitudes, thereby facilitating rapid church growth even in supposedly “closed” nations. Yes, much work remains to be done, and many pioneer missionaries are needed to do it. Nevertheless, it is not wishful thinking to say that today’s Church is powerfully “hastening” the coming of the Lord, and that the completion of the Great Commission is near (2 Peter 3:12). Says the Joshua Project, “We are within range of penetrating every people group on the planet with the light of the gospel, and with more momentum than ever before in history.”1

Secondly, it is also true that we have not yet seen the large-scale conversion of God’s ancient covenant people, ethnic Israel—a blessed hope which I believe is indeed promised in Scripture (Rom. 11). However, the stage is certainly set for it. Globally, anti-Semitism is on the rise. Many of the sons of Jacob have returned to their former homeland, a staggering feat of providence that can hardly be without redemptive significance. Ethnic Israel’s spiritual wealth is inversely proportional to their material: From Christ’s perspective, they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked—and deeply loved (Rom. 11:28; Rev. 3:17). Even now there is a great famine in their land, such that one day soon—perhaps amidst the birth pains of persecution and war—multitudes of Jews will finally cry out to God’s greater Joseph: first for forgiveness, and then for food, drink, and the perfect safety of a far better homeland where righteousness dwells (Gen. 45:1-28; 2 Peter 1:13).2

Finally, it is also true that the Man of Lawlessness has not yet been revealed, and that the Last Battle and the greatest tribulation have not yet begun (Matt. 24:9-28, 2 Thess. 2:3-12; Rev. 11:7-10, 13:6-10, 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10). As never before, however, there are signs that the final clash of the kingdoms is drawing near. I have just cited rapidly increasing lawlessness, apostasy, and persecution, all of which may well herald, or even presently fulfill, the “rebellion” of which Christ, the apostle Paul, and the Revelator all spoke (Matt. 24:4-28; 2 Thess. 2:1ff; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rev. 9:20-21, 16:8-11).

Alongside these we also observe a fresh upsurge of the Babylonian tendency in world history (Gen. 11:1-9; Dan. 7; Rev. 13, 18). Guided as if by an invisible hand, an emerging network of powerful elites—corporate, governmental, bureaucratic, military, scientific, educational, journalistic, and technocratic—militates against democratic and nationalist impulses, working instead toward a Great Reset of human nature and society. What’s more, recent history has shown that by means of powerful propaganda this network is quite capable of manipulating huge swaths of humanity toward their chosen ends. Though God’s prophetic word indicates that their path to a global utopia will be strewn with the thorns of war (Dan. 11:36-12:13; Rev. 17:16), it is nevertheless clear that the unthinkable has now become thinkable: A final world empire, ruled by a final world tyrant holding the family of nations in a twofold iron grip: the hope of heaven on earth, and the fear of annihilation for those unwilling to comply. Happily, the gospel continues to go forth with good success to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so that new churches are springing up in their midst. Yet even as it does, a world-system given over to idolatry—and drunk with pride, wealth, sensuality, and the lust for power—grows increasingly hardened. Like Egypt of old, at any moment it could turn en masse against God’s eschatological Israel, thinking to pursue her to the death through a Red Sea of religious cleansing.

Amillennialism: Scripture’s One True Eschatology

Yes, the Church may well be entering the last of the last days.3 And if so, it’s more important than ever that she be anchored to the Bible’s one true eschatology. My conviction, defended from Scripture in two books and several essays, is that this high honor rightly belongs the amillennialism, the classic eschatology of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communions.

What exactly is amillennialism? The simplest answer is based on the word itself. Literally, it means “no 1000 years.” But amillennarians do not deny the existence of a millennium (which is clearly taught in Revelation 20), only that the 1000 years are literal, that the millennial reign of Christ begins after his Second Coming, and that it takes place on the earth. In other words, they are not premillennarians, who believe that Christ will return before a literal 1000 year reign centered in earthly Jerusalem. Instead, they are best referred to as present-millennarians, believing that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 symbolize the present heavenly reign of Christ, who rules spiritually over his Church and providentially over the whole world. In short, amillennarians believe we are living in the millennium now, and that we have been for some 2000 years. As we’ll see in just a moment, this view has an enormous impact on how we think about the Consummation of all things.

But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the simplest answer has not resolved the Great End Time Debate (GETD) that currently roils the evangelical world. For this reason I have found it helpful to explain amillennialism in terms of the four biblical themes that underlie this particular contest. In what follows I will sketch them briefly without the proof texts and biblical illustrations that I have provided elsewhere.  

The first (and most fundamental) theme is the Kingdom of God (KOG). According to amillennarians, the Kingdom is the direct spiritual reign of God the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, over all that the triune God has redeemed and made his own. It is the realm of God, beneath the reign of God—a realm that therefore partakes of the glory of God.

This Kingdom enters history in two simple stages. First, there is a temporary heavenly reign of God’s incarnate Son and Messiah, a reign that is spiritual only, and entered by the new birth, repentance, and faith in Christ. Then comes an eternal earthly reign of the Father (and the Son), a reign that is both spiritual and physical, and that is entered through the Resurrection at Christ’s return. Very importantly, the two stages of the one Kingdom are separated by a single Consummation, set to occur at the one Parousia (i.e., Coming in glory) of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the present evil age.

The second (and most challenging) theme is the proper interpretation of Old Testament prophecies of the Kingdom (OTKP). According to amillennarians, all such prophecies are veiled revelations of the two-staged Kingdom introduced by Christ and the New Covenant. They speak either of the temporary heavenly reign of the Son, or of the eternal earthly reign of the Father (and the Son), or of both; or they speak of the one Consummation separating the two.

Amillennarians contend that in OTKP the Holy Spirit was pleased to use images drawn from the physical life of ethnic Israel under the Old Covenant to speak typologically and figuratively about spiritual (and physical) life of spiritual Israel under the New Covenant.4 Thus, the true sphere of fulfillment of OTKP is not a future earthly millennium, but the two-staged spiritual reign of God and Christ, a reign that is created by the New Covenant, and that is experienced by the one true family and nation of God, comprised of the believing Jews and Gentiles of all time. New Testament revelation enables the Church to unveil and decode OTKP, and therefore to see that in it God was speaking of—and to—her!

The third (and most controversial) theme is the millennium, the 1000-year reign of Christ (exclusively) spoken of in Revelation 20. Amillennarians believe that the 1000 years symbolize the inter-adventual era: the season between Christ’s first coming and his last. During this era (now some 2000 years long) the Holy Trinity (3) applies the redemption accomplished by Christ, and so completes (10) the ingathering of the Church (10 x 10 x 10). During this era the High King of heaven rules directly over the Church, and providentially over the whole world. During this era he empowers the Church to preach the gospel to all creation. And during this era grants her good success, for because of his work on earth Christ has bound Satan so that he cannot deceive the nations. That is, he cannot prevent God from shining the light of the truth of the Gospel into the hearts of his elect people, nor can he (until the very end) use his deceptive powers to assemble the nations for the Last Battle against the Church.

The fourth (and most fascinating) theme is the Consummation. Amillennarians teach that there is just one of them, set to occur at the one Parousia of Christ, when he returns in glory with all the holy angels to rescue his Bride from the Last Battle, raise the dead, transform the living, judge the world in righteousness in the skies above the earth, consign evil men and angels to eternal punishment, and create new heavens and a new earth: the eternal home of the triune God, all the saints, and all the angels. Here we encounter the glory of amillennial eschatology, which alone sets before us the majestic manner in which God the Father will be pleased to cap the redemptive work of his Son and crown his exaltation. Again, this soul-stirring scenario has been the majority view of the universal Church up until modern times.

Amillennialism: An Eschatology for These Last Days

For the last 150 years the evangelical Church has been deeply embroiled in what I like to call The Great End Time Debate (GETD) As many of us know all too well, eschatological views abound. Curious Christians must now reckon with amillennialism, (two varieties of) historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, and (two varieties of) preterism. In my books and essays I have tried to help believers process each of these views. And along the way I have shared and defended my conviction that amillennialism is indeed the true teaching of Scripture.

In the following remarks I again want to address all Christians, but especially Christian leaders. Here I will spotlight five crucial characteristics of amillennial eschatology, characteristics that demonstrate its spiritual power and importance, and that show us why it is perfectly suited to carry the true spiritual Church safely through the last of the last days, and on into the consummated Kingdom of God.

First, amillennialism powerfully caps and crystallizes the entire biblical worldview. The reasons are many. It gives us the one true timeline of Salvation History: Creation, Probation, Fall, the OT Era of Promise and Preparation, and the two-staged NT Era of Fulfillment, comprised of the temporary spiritual Kingdom of the Son, the Consummation at Christ’s return, and the eternal earthly Kingdom of the Father (and the Son) in the World to Come. It gives us the heart of Salvation History: the Eternal Covenant in Christ, planned before the founding of the world; similarly, it also gives us the body of Salvation History: the various administrations of the Covenant, from creation to consummation. Finally, it gives us the capstone of biblical cosmology, which, in order to be complete, must include not only of the origin, purpose, and structure of the universe, but also its final destiny: the Consummation of all things. All of us have a God-given desire to behold “the Big Picture” of the universe, life, and man; all of us desire to discover and embrace the one true worldview. Amillennialism alone supplies it.

Secondly, amillennialism opens up and integrates the entire Bible. Here again several steps are involved. The journey begins at the Mount of Transfiguration, where amillennarians bid us hear afresh God the Father identifying his Son as the supreme spiritual Teacher of the human race (Matt. 17:1-8). Yes, in the past Moses and the OT prophets spoke truth to us, but only in “many portions and various ways,” (Heb. 1:1). Therefore, we dare not take our theological cues from them, for in the progress of divine revelation Christ alone has brought us “true truth,” complete truth, definitive truth. Only in Christ, and not in Moses or the prophets, can seekers find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, including eschatological knowledge (Col. 2:3).5

Accordingly, we must turn first and foremost to the Didactic New Testament (DNT): the specifically teaching portions of the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles. Here we have the one classroom in which the Teacher unveils God’s definitive truth, and also the one courtroom in which all theological disputes must be decided. Here we receive clear answers to the four underlying issues in the GETD. Here we discover the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH): the New Testament method for interpreting the Old Testament in general, and OTKP in particular. Here is where we learn to decipher, understand, and enjoy the “dark” (i.e., typological) sayings of  OT history, the Mosaic Law, OTKP, and the Revelation.

And the result? Suddenly the thousand tiles of biblical revelation coalesce into a single, stunningly beautiful mosaic. Suddenly we behold the face of Christ, the blessings of the Eternal Covenant, and the two-staged Kingdom of God throughout all Scripture: whether darkly prefigured, promised, and predicted in the Old Testament, or brightly manifested, proclaimed, expounded, applied, and eagerly embraced in the New. Gladly and gratefully we now realize that the Lord has definitively opened our minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:25), and that now our Bible is fully illumined, integrated, and unveiled (Matt. 13:51-52; 2 Cor. 4:1-6).

Lest she be swept away by the strong ideological crosscurrents of the last days, the Church must be anchored to total truth. By opening up and integrating the entire Bible, the DNT and the NCH—twin pillars of a soundly biblical eschatology—give her total truth. As she takes fresh hold of it, the Lord takes fresh hold of her, keeping her safe, sound, and strong all the way to the end.

Thirdly, amillennialism strengthens the preaching and teaching ministry of the Church. This is a corollary of the previous two points. By giving God’s people total biblical truth, amillennialism enables them to proclaim that truth. In particular, it empowers evangelists, pastors, and teachers not only to preach Christ from the four Gospels and the epistles, but also from OT history and Law, OTKP, and the Revelation. It empowers them not only to proclaim the Lord’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, but also his ascension, session, present heavenly reign, and future coming again. And it mightily empowers them to proclaim the one Consummation that Christ will effect at his return: the one Resurrection, the one Judgment, the one Regeneration of all things, and the one new World to Come. Amillennialism enables God’s gospel messengers to bring the full force of his total truth to bear upon saints and sinners alike. The saints and sinners of these last days will need it as never before.

Fourthly, amillennialism prepares the Church for the Last Battle. Like the good Father who gave it to us, this eschatology does not indulge in escapist fantasies or wishful thinking. It tells us honestly and comfortingly that the true spiritual Church (Rev. 11:1-3) is destined to follow in the footsteps of her Master; that for a brief season at the end of the age she will endure severe marginalization, unfair vilification, gross injustice, widespread rejection, and (institutional) death. However, it also tells us that at the Parousia she will swiftly rise again to final vindication, eternal life, and joy inexpressible and full of glory. As it is written, “A disciple is not above his teacher, neither is a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and a servant like his master” (Matt. 10:24-25). The saints will be like their Master in (re)birth, life, ministry, joy, hardship, death, resurrection, ascension, and eternal glory. To all eternity they will confess that it was enough and more than enough (Col. 3:1-3; Rev. 11:1-14).

Finally, amillennialism revives the Church with a fresh revelation of the glory of Christ. It does so by opening her eyes to the true nature of her Lord’s exaltation, especially to his session, heavenly reign, and return in glory for the Consummation of all things. For a longish season smoke ascending from the abyss has obscured this particular sun (Rev. 9:1-2). Now, however, the Lord is clearing the air. As he does, the Bride beholds her King afresh: not only up above, but also up ahead. The vision is breathtaking, filling her eyes with his deity, sovereignty, mighty power, and fervent love for his people. As never before she beholds the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and is thereby changed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18).

In sum, amillennialism is indeed an eschatology perfectly suited for these last days. Opening a window onto the one true Consummation, it lets in light from God’s one true future, pouring that light into the perplexing present, and filling the souls of the saints with clarity, conviction, joy, and the zeal of Christ himself.

Thus filled, the Bride becomes sound in faith, strong for outreach, steady in the midst of birth pains, proof against lies and error, holy against the rising tide of lawlessness, and courageous in the face of persecution—always looking beyond the Last Battle to the eternal joys of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Indeed, as her heavenly Husband washes her eyes with the water of his Word, the veil between the present and the future grows strangely thin—so thin that she seems to see him standing right before her.

With love and longing, she cries, “Come!”

With love and longing he replies, “Yes, my Beloved, I am coming quickly. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life!”



  1. For a short introduction to the state of world missions see this excellent essay, posted at the Joshua Project.
  2. For two essays dealing with God’s plan for ethnic Israel, click here and here.
  3. Here are some further recent developments suggesting that the Consummation may well be near: (1) the current breaking off of (many of) the Gentile nations, which, according to my reading of Romans 11:15 and 21, precedes the grafting in of latter day ethnic Israel and “life from the dead”; (2) the sudden advent of modern communications and military technology, with their extraordinary power to spiritually corrupt and physically destroy; (3) the fact that the apostle John said he was living in “the last hour” (1 John 2:18), implying (for at least one pastor I know) that we must be living in “the last second”; (4) the plausible eschatology of Irenaeus, who suggested that God meant each of the six days of creation to correspond to 1000 literal years, which, if true, would place us at the dawn of the seventh day, the eternal day of mankind’s eschatological rest.
  4. The NT requires us to distinguish between two kinds OT Messianic prophecy. The first I call “simple OT Messianic prophecy.” It is simple in the sense of being straightforward; that is, all such prophecies were literally fulfilled at or around the first coming of Christ, between the time of his incarnation and his session at the right hand of the Father. The second I call “Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy” (OTKP). Prophecies in this category are more complex. They are fulfilled on or after the Day of Pentecost, when the KOG entered the world and the New Covenant went into effect. Prophecies of this kind use OT types and shadows to speak figuratively of the two-staged Kingdom of God created by Christ under the New Covenant. Accordingly, it is necessary for the NT interpreter to employ the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH)—the NT method for interpreting the OT generally, and OTKP in particular—in order to decode these  “mysterious” OT utterances.  For more on this subject, click here.
  5. This, I believe, is the fundamental misstep of dispensational premillennialism. Neglecting the DNT and the NCH, dispensational interpreters have chosen instead to build their system on OT ground, and in particular on literalist interpretations of the prophecies of Daniel, Zechariah, and the Revelation (which, in some ways, is the most Old Testament of New Testament books). In so doing they have entangled huge swaths of the evangelical church in a faulty theology that (unintentionally) dishonors God’s appointed Teacher, and therefore greatly confuses his people. My hope and prayer is that the High King will soon visit my dispensational brothers and bring them (and the whole evangelical Church) home to the classic amillennial faith of our Protestant forefathers.

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders
so as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.”

(Mt. 24:24)


Most Christians are familiar with these words, and most do indeed watch for false prophets. But their focus is limited: They are on the alert for human false prophets rising up out of the earth (Rev. 13:11f).

But in these dangerous last days, here’s a question well worth asking: Could it be that some of those false prophets will be evil spirits coming down from the sky, masquerading as highly evolved extra-terrestrials who are not out to blast us, but to “bless” us with their redemptive wisdom from the starry deeps?

Well, if you know anything about the great red dragon, whose tail sweeps stars down to the earth—and who is styled as the deceiver of the whole world—you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) put it past him (Rev. 12:4, 9).

And yet, many Christians are double-minded on this subject. They ask, almost rhetorically, “Who’s to say that extra-terrestrials don’t exist? Surely in a universe as big as ours there must be other intelligent life forms out there! Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think that we, and we alone, are ‘the ones’”?

Those are good questions, questions I myself have asked. But in devoting a couple of years to the study of biblical cosmology, I was stunned to learn something of great interest, and—in credulous times such as ours—of great practical importance: I learned that, Yes, we really are “the ones”!

Very briefly, let me make that case.

What Shape is Your Cosmos?

Did you know that prior to the sixteenth century no one in the Western world believed in aliens? In part, that’s because no one believed in the Big Bang or cosmic evolution. But in larger part, it was because no one believed that space was infinite or centerless or curved; no one believed it was shaped like a saddle, a hyper-cube, or a multi-dimensional toroid. (Not to worry, modern cosmologists who dream of these “high things” can’t even imagine them themselves, 2 Cor. 10:5). Instead, they believed that God, in six literal days, created the universe as a great but finite sphere, revolving around a stationary earth that served as home for the apple of his eye: us! And where did folks get such an outlandishly man-centered idea? You guessed it: from the Bible (plus like affirmations from Aristotle and other ancients).

Now, please consider the following historical fact carefully: Belief in aliens came in when belief in biblical geocentrism went out. It came in when Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and all their followers demoted the earth from the place of cosmic centrality bestowed upon it by the Word of God. Interestingly, the first scientist to let the alien genie out of the cosmological bottle was Johannes Kepler, who speculated about the inhabitants of the moon in a book aptly called Dream. Four hundred years later, the dreamers at NASA and the SETI program are still at it!

If, then, we truly desire to understand the Bible’s verdict on the question of extra-terrestrials, we shall first have to re-examine its testimony about the purpose and structure of the universe. And as unpalatable as it may be to modern man, that testimony is actually quite clear, compelling, and (to my mind) comforting: The earth really is the center—at least of God’s affections, plans, and purposes, and quite likely of his entire creation as well.

Elsewhere I have made an extensive case for this controversial thesis. Here, I would simply direct you to Genesis 1. As you read it again, start by clearing your thoughts of as many cosmological pictures and presuppositions as you can. Then, with fresh eyes, read the text, keeping these few questions in mind:

  • What did God create first: the Earth or the heavenly bodies?
  • What (according to the most natural reading of the text) revolves around what: the earth around the sun, or the sun (and the other heavenly bodies) around the earth?
  • For whom were the luminaries created?
  • Why were they created?
  • Is there anything here (or elsewhere in Scripture) to suggest that the heavenly bodies were created to serve as homes for extra-terrestrials (i.e., psycho-physical beings like us)?
  • Is there anything here (or elsewhere in Scripture) to suggest that  extra-terrestrials were created to function in a manner similar to angels; that is, as messengers of truth to the inhabitants of the earth?

Now, whatever your answers may be, this much should be agreeable to all: Here in Genesis 1 (and in the rest of Scripture) the Earth is clearly not depicted as a planet; that is, as a heavenly body that wanders around the sun or (in any other way) through space (Greek: planao, to wander). Rather, it is depicted as an altogether unique and uniquely inhabited body; a body that stands majestically at the very center of God’s creation, interest, and concern. In short, when the God of the Bible hung the stars, he did not do it for ET. He did it for us (Gen. 1:14-19). And to my mind, this entails that ET does not exist.

Extra-terrestrials and the Justice of God

But the biblical case against extra-terrestrials runs deeper still. That’s because Scripture also states that shortly after the beginning, following Adam’s sin, God wisely laid a curse upon the the entire creation, subjecting it to natural evil, suffering, decay, and death (Rom. 8:18-23). Furthermore, this preliminary judgment portended a far greater Judgment set to occur at the end of the age, when the universe as we now know it will be completely destroyed by fire, and then renewed at the hand of Christ for eternal life in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 24:35; 1 Cor. 15:20f; Phil. 3:20-21, 2 Peter 3:10-13).

This testimony creates a serious problem for those who believe that aliens inhabit the heavens. For if extra-terrestrials really do exist, then in the Judgment both they and their world(s) will suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin, even though they themselves are not his offspring, and therefore stand in no spiritual or physical relation to him (Rom. 5:12f).

What’s more, such extra-terrestrials could not possibly have a savior, for the Bible tells us that the Redeemer of the cosmos has taken to himself—for all eternity—“the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5f, 1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 2:14f, Rev. 1:9f). It is as a man—and not as an extra-terrestrial—that the Son of God became the High Priest of his people: dying for them, rising for them, and interceding for them in heaven, both now and to all eternity (Rom. 8:34, Heb. 2:14-18, 7:25, 9:24).

To repeat: If extra-terrestri­als exist, they have no covenantal, forensic, spiritual, or physical connection with the first Adam, nor with the Redeemer who was fashioned in his likeness (Rom. 5:12f). They are under the headship neither of the first Adam nor of the last. And yet, according to the Bible, they all must perish in the end time conflagration. But would the righteous Judge of heaven and earth perform such a manifestly unjust act? Scripture assures us that such a thing can never be (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4, Isaiah 30:18, 61:8, 2 Tim. 4:8, Rev. 15:3). So again, the conclusion, on biblical grounds, is that extra-terrestrials do not exist.

Heads Up!

What then are we to make of alleged sightings of UFO’s and/or personal contacts with aliens? Biblically, the options are few, simple, and sobering: Either they are natural phenomena, man-made objects, cunning scams, or demon powers seeking to distract, deceive, and destroy the inhabitants of the earth, and also to rob the High King of heaven of the worship properly belonging to him (Luke 4:5-7, 2 Cor. 11:14, 2 Thess. 2:9-12, 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 5:8). The latter option will indeed sound far-fetched to the modern mind; but it will not stumble saints who are well acquainted with Satan’s devices, who remember that he is called “the prince of the power of the air,” and who recall that he likes to disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 2:11, 11:14; Eph. 2:2).

We live in turbulent times. We have come to expect the unexpected, even the bizzare. The Internet woos us with reports of UFO sightings and alien abductions. NASA and SETI continue to probe the heavens for signs of intelligent life. Offerings from Hollywood focus mankind’s hopes on space travel, cosmic demigods, and visitations from above.

But wise Christians, grounded in biblical cosmology, will not be taken in. With confidence and joy they will understand that the Earth really is center stage, that we human beings really are “the (beloved) ones”, and that the High King of heaven would have us lift up our heads and fix our eyes on on the Bright Morning Star. It is scheduled to rise soon, and will most assuredly appear in a very great theater near you (Luke 21:28, Heb. 12:2, Rev. 22:16).


  1. For more on this subject, see The New Answers Book (Master Books, 2007), chapter 18. You may also want to watch the informative video, Alien Intrusion, by Gary Bates (but definitely not before bed).

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will wail and mourn and beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a loud blast of the trumpet; and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the skies to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31


These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, spoken to his disciples shortly before his death on the Cross. Here he promises them that one day soon he will come again to the earth in order effect what theologians refer to as the Consummation. At that time Christ will raise the dead, transform the living saints, catch them all up into the air, judge the world in righteousness, and create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed.

In the paragraphs ahead I want to highlight the central elements of Christ’s return as they are reflected in these special words to his disciples. Then, having done so, I want to ask a two-fold question: Why has God structured the Consummation in this way, and what are we who are still journeying through our life on this earth meant to learn from it?

Let us begin.

First, there is a darkening. Prior to the Lord’s coming, God literally extinguishes the sun, the moon, and the stars. The result is thick darkness, the kind that engulfed the earth-in-the-deep at the dawn of creation, and a kind that will recall the thick spiritual darkness that engulfed all mankind because of the fall of Adam (Gen. 1:1-5; Ex. 10:22; Col. 1:13). But as it was in the beginning, so here: It sets the stage for the appearing of light: the Light of the World, the One who will now separate all light from all darkness forever. In that day sinners will recoil from the Light, but the saints of God will declare that it is exceedingly good (Gen. 1:1-5; Eccl. 11:7; 2 Cor. 4:6).

Secondly, there is an appearing: above all of the Son of Man himself, but also of the sign, the power, and the glory that will attend him at his Coming. Because of the one Resurrection, every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7). But with the seeing of the eye, there will also be a seeing with the mind. In his Light, all will see light (Ps. 36:9). The spiritual truth that was previously made known to men and nations through creation, conscience, Christ, Holy Scripture, and the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel will now appear: palpably, powerfully, and inescapably (Josh. 4:23-24; Is. 45:20-25; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 3:4-6; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:15).

Thirdly, there will be mourning. It will emanate from all who previously suppressed the knowledge of the truth in unrighteousness, who loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1:18). Yes, there will be mourning over the loss of the things they worshiped in life, over the final collapse of the idolatrous City of Man (Rev. 18). But far more dreadfully, there will be mourning over the loss of their eternal souls (Mark 8:36). Scripture itself anticipates their heartbreaking lament: “If only I had sought the Lord when he could be found; if only I had called on him when he was near; if only I had believed and obeyed the light by which God tested my love of the truth. For now the door is shut, and the thing that I feared has come upon me” (Job 3:25-26; Is. 55:6; Prov. 3:20-33; Matt. 25:10; John 1:9; 3:16-21; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 1:18-19; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 1:7; 18:1-24).

Fourthly, there will be gathering—a gathering of his elect, a gathering of his enemies, and so a gathering of all men and nations, together will all angels, both good and evil (Matt. 13:30, 24:31, 25:32; Luke 19:27). It is a gathering unto the one Judgment: unto eternal reward and eternal retribution (Matt. 25:31-46). But above all, for human beings it is a gathering unto truth: the truth about what each one did with the light he was given during the days of his pilgrimage upon the earth (Luke 12:47; John 3:16-21; Rom. 2:1-16).

Finally, there will be a centering. At the Parousia the luminaries above will be dissolved, and the earth below will be consumed by fire (Is. 34:4; Zech. 14:6; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 20:11). And then the true Center will be revealed: the High King of Heaven, seated on his glorious throne, with all men and all angels gathered before him, awaiting the final disposition of all things. Thus shall all mankind finally realize that the One here enthroned at the center of the physical universe is the One who has always been enthroned at the center of his Father’s affection, purpose, plan, and work. Thus shall all mankind finally behold the Son of God for who he is, and for what God appointed him to be: the Alpha and the Omega: the divine Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Ruler, Judge, Re-creator, Light and Life of the world.

Do we understand why God has structured the Consummation this way? And do we understand why he has told us all these things ahead of time?

Yes, in so speaking he means to instruct, equip, warn, and richly encourage his believing people. But beyond this, he also means to address the unbelieving world: all of the people who are not yet his people. By structuring the Consummation as he has, and by revealing its structure to the world in his Word and through his Church, he is asking beloved sinners everywhere these all-important questions:

“Who or what is your center? To whom or what are you devoting your life’s time, talent, treasure, and energies as you journey through this world toward the hour of your death or the day of my Son’s return? Have you considered him: his life, his teaching, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation, his people, and his book? Is he not, far and away, the world’s best candidate for every man’s true center? Will you not therefore turn aside and see this great sight (Ex. 3:3)? Will you not earnestly inquire as to who he is and why he came? And will you not keep on asking, seeking, and knocking until you have found out for sure (Matt. 7:7-8)?

“Beloved sojourners, I tell you the truth: When the High King of Heaven comes again he will indeed be disclosed as the absolute center of all things. And no tongue or pen will be able to describe the joy of those pilgrims who sought and found the Truth, and who then made him the absolute center of their lives” (John 14:6; Jude 1:24).