Note: This essay is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, The Gist of the Revelation: An Amillennial Overview of the Grand Finale of All Scripture (Redemption Press)

Here is a key to a few of the acronyms used in the book and the essay below:

DNT = The Didactic New Testament (i.e., the distinctly teaching portions of the gospels, Acts, and the epistles)

EOP = Era of (Gospel) Proclamation (i.e., the season of Christ’s heavenly mediatorial reign, stretching from Pentecost to the Consummation at his return in glory, during which the Church proclaims to gospel to the nations)

OTKP = Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (i.e., OT prophecies fulfilled post-Pentecost, speaking typologically and figuratively of New Covenant realities, and needing to be interpreted accordingly)




Why does dispensational premillennialism have such a powerful grip on the evangelical imagination?

One answer—and perhaps the most important—is the apparent harmony between the dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24–27 (i.e., the prophecy of the seventy sevens) and the structure and contents of the Revelation. In the eyes of the dispensationalist, these two texts so clearly confirm each other that the truth of his theological system cannot possibly be in doubt, no matter what the DNT may have to say about the central themes of biblical eschatology: the nature and structure of the Kingdom of God, the nature and structure of the Consummation, and the proper NT method of interpreting OT Kingdom prophecies.

I reckon this perceived harmony to be an illusion, an illusion that compromises biblical truth and works positive harm to God’s people. In this essay I do what I can to dispel the illusion, hoping to win my dispensational brothers back to the classic amillennial faith of our Protestant forefathers, and to the one true blessed hope of the Church.

The journey here will involve three steps. First, we’ll look briefly at the dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27. Next, we’ll discuss the dispensational interpretation of the Revelation, spotlighting its (alleged) connections with Daniel’s prophecy, and then offering amillennial correctives. Finally, we’ll inquire as to exactly why our dispensational brothers have so egregiously misunderstood the grand finale of all Scripture.


The Dispensational Interpretation of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens

Here, from the mouth an imaginary dispensationalist, is a short statement of the standard dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24–27:

The theme of the prophecy is not the future of spiritual Israel (i.e., the Church), but rather of ethnic Israel, the physical seed of Abraham. Daniel’s people and Daniel’s city are not spiritually circumcised Jews and Gentiles, but rather the Jewish race and their historic capital (9:24). Throughout OT times, God promised ethnic Israel a theocratic kingdom, to be mediated by his Messiah. But before Israel can enter the promised Kingdom Age, it must first traverse Daniel’s “seventy sevens.” These are weeks of calendar years, totaling 490. The sixty-nine weeks of verse 25 began with Artaxerxes’s decree to rebuild Jerusalem (445 BC); they ended at the birth (or triumphal entry) of Christ. Verse 26 gives us the events of the sixty-ninth week: the week in which Christ was rejected, and after which the Roman general Titus came and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. But just here, something unexpected happens: God (through Gabriel) suddenly leaps over the entire Church Age (now some two thousand years long), thereby keeping his dealings with his heavenly people (i.e., the Church) a mystery later to be unveiled by Christ. Accordingly, verse 27 gives us future events set to occur during the seventieth week: the week that follows the Secret Rapture of the Church. Once that occurs, “God’s prophetic time clock” will begin to tick again. That is, he will now resumes his dealings with the (physical) sons of Abraham.

This week of seven years is called the Tribulation. At the beginning of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will make a covenant with ethnic Israel. In the middle of the week he will break it, suppressing Jewish worship, and defiling the (restored) Jewish temple. This marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation, which will last a literal three and a half years. At their end, Christ will return in glory, destroy the Antichrist, and welcome the Jewish saints and gentile converts who have survived the Tribulation into the promised Kingdom Age. According to Revelation 20, it will last 1000 literal years.1


The Dispensational Interpretation of the Revelation, With Amillennarian Replies

We turn now to the dispensational interpretation of the Revelation. In the paragraphs ahead I will give the gist of the dispensational interpretation of each section of the Revelation. Then, in italics, I will offer an amillenarian reply. Along the way I will point out how the dispensationalist’s interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 controls his thinking about the Revelation, and explain why I believe his conclusions are in error.

Dispensational teaching: Chapter 1 of the Revelation gives us a vision of the exalted Christ, the One who will first bring to pass God’s purpose for the Church (chapters 2–5), and thereafter God’s purpose for ethnic Israel and the believing nations who survive the Tribulation (chapters 6–20).

 Amillenarian reply: Yes, chapter 1 gives us a revelation of the exalted Christ, the Lord of the remainder of Salvation History. But no, the book does not give us God’s twofold purpose and plan, first for the Church, and then for ethnic Israel. Rather, it gives us God’s singular purpose and plan for his one and only people: the Church, comprised of elect Jews and Gentiles of all times. Here, however, the emphasis falls upon God’s New Covenant people, whom the High King of heaven will empower to make their difficult spiritual pilgrimage through the Era of Gospel Proclamation.

Dispensational teaching: Chapters 2–3 give us the Lord’s messages to the seven churches of Asia. Real as those churches were, they also symbolize the universal Church, and (for those of us who lean to an historicist interpretation of the Revelation) the historical stages through which she must pass over the course of the Church Age. This age is the “mystery parenthesis” that neither Daniel nor any of the other the OT prophets foresaw. It is the age that Christ unveiled when, in anticipation of his rejection by Israel, he said, “I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). Thus, in chapters 2–3, Christ is speaking to the Church, about the Church during the Church Age. Soon, however, he will be speaking to Israel, about Israel (and the nations) during the Tribulation, and on into the Millennium.

 Amillenarian reply: Yes, the true nature of the Church, as the spiritual Body of the Messiah, was a mystery hidden from the OT prophets (Eph. 3:1-13). However, the prophets did indeed foresee the Church, and were moved by the Spirit to speak about her, albeit under a veil of OT imagery (e.g., Isa. 60; Jer. 3:16-18; Ezek. 37-48). And this is true of the prophet Daniel himself, who was speaking about the Church in Daniel 9:25b–27! As for the Revelation, in chapters 2–3 the High Prophet of heaven speaks to the Church about the various strengths and weaknesses she will manifest during her pilgrimage to the World to Come. Then, in chapters 6–20 he speaks to her about the persons, powers, events, and institutions she will encounter along the way. In the Revelation, ethnic Israel is never in view, whereas Israel’s antitype, the true spiritual Church, is always and only in view.

Dispensational Teaching: In chapters 4–5 we have John’s vision of heaven, its occupants, and the worship with which they fill it. The apostle hears a voice, saying, “Come up here” (4:1). For many of us, this is a veiled reference to the Rapture. For all of us, the twenty-four elders represent the raptured, glorified, rewarded, and worshiping Church. In her sight, and eliciting her praise, Christ receives from the Father the title deed to the earth and prepares to unfasten the seven seals. When he does, the seventieth week of Daniel (i.e., the seven-year Tribulation) begins. In other words, the exalted Christ now commences his eschatological dealings with ethnic Israel and the nations, with a view to introducing the 1000-year Kingdom Age.

 Amillenarian reply: No, John’s journey to heaven does not picture the Secret Rapture of the Church (a doctrine not found in the DNT). It does, however, remind us that through the new birth all of the members of Christ’s Church are, or will be, seated in the heavenly places in/with him (Eph. 2:6). As for the scene in heaven, it is timeless, depicting God’s eternal decree that the redeemed Church should forever live and worship before his throne. She is comprised of OT saints (symbolized by twelve patriarchs upon thrones) and NT saints (symbolized by twelve apostles upon thrones). The scroll in the Father’s hand is a last will and testament, containing the eternal inheritance of the saints (chapters 21–22). Before they can receive it, the High King of heaven, who prevailed on the earth for the salvation of his people, must unfasten its seven seals. That is, he must preside over the remainder of Salvation History: over the various historical events through which his redemptive work will be proclaimed and applied to the hearts of his believing people. In sum, he must oversee the pilgrimage of his Church throughout the EOP, after which he will come again to consummate God’s plan in final judgment and redemption, and to bring in the new heavens and the new earth, the eternal inheritance of the children of God.

Dispensational teaching: Chapters 6–19 give us the Tribulation, the seventieth week of Daniel. In essence, it is a seven-year season of world evangelization, during which 144,000 redeemed Israelites will proclaim the gospel of the (coming millennial) Kingdom amidst ever-increasing and ever-intensifying providential judgments, culminating in a final judgment of the living nations at the visible return of Christ (7:1–8; 19:11–21). The judgments are serial in nature, progressing from the six seals (6–7), through the seven trumpets (8–11), and on into the seven bowls (15–16). As John MacArthur says, “The seal judgments include all the judgments to the end. The seventh seal contains the seven trumpets, the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls.” Midway through the Tribulation the Antichrist (i.e., the Beast) will arrive on the scene, break his covenant with Israel, defile the temple, and devastate Jerusalem; at this, the three and a half years of the Great Tribulation will begin (13:5). This section ends with chapter 19, which alone gives us the Second Coming of Christ in glory (19:11–16), the demise of his enemies gathered against him and Israel at (the plain surrounding) Megiddo (19:17–21), and the close of the Great Tribulation.

 Amillenarian reply: No, these chapters do not speak of a future seven-year tribulation. Rather, along with chapter 20, they employ richly symbolic language to give us six parallel recapitulations of the course and character of the High King’s heavenly reign. Each one begins at the beginning of the EOP and ends with a more or less symbolic representation of the return of Christ in judgment, and, on occasion, of the eternal blessedness of the saints. Literal interpretations of the 144,000 sealed Israelites, the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments, the bowl judgments, the two witnesses, the permutations of three and a half years, the mark of the Beast, and the Battle of Armageddon all wreak havoc with the text. They needlessly strain credulity, engender crippling fears, and obscure the meaning, solemnity, and wonder of these parallel visions. Here the dispensational view works positive harm to the Church, not simply by misunderstanding the symbolism used in these chapters, but also by projecting their fulfillment onto another people and into a distant (post-rapture) future. The flock of God is journeying through the howling wilderness of this present evil age. It is headed for the special challenges of the Last Battle. In order to be fully prepared, it needs to hear the wise and comforting voice of its heavenly Shepherd. Here, as elsewhere, dispensationalism silences it.2

Dispensational teaching: Chapter 20 gives us the goal and aftermath of Daniel’s seventy weeks: the 1000-year Kingdom Age, in which all OTKP is (literally) fulfilled at last. First, Satan and his demons are cast into the abyss, paving the way for vastly improved spiritual and physical conditions upon the earth. Then, in “the first resurrection”, Christ raises the OT saints and the tribulation martyrs. They, along with those who came to faith during the Tribulation, enter the Kingdom Age and rule with Christ during the Millennium. OT temple worship, centered in Jerusalem, is revived, but only to commemorate the finished work of Christ. Fundamentally, the Millennium is a lengthy season of peace, prosperity, longevity, righteousness, and joy. Nevertheless, as time passes many of the children of the tribulation saints fall into unbelief. The result is a series of dramatic eschatological events that bring the Millennium to a close: the release of Satan from the abyss, a gathering of rebellious nations against Jerusalem, a divine judgment by fire, a second resurrection (this time of the unrighteous dead), and a final Judgment of all unbelievers at the Great White Throne.

Amillenarian reply: No, Revelation 20 does not describe a future 1000-year reign of Christ upon the earth. Rather, it gives us a seventh and final recapitulation of the course and character of his heavenly reign and its earthly impacts. During this time, which stretches between the Lord’s first and second advents, Satan is bound from deceiving God’s elect, and also from gathering the unbelieving world to the Last Battle. It is a long time (symbolized by the number 1000), but also a finite time, during which the triune God (3) completes (10) the application of the redemption purchased by Christ (10 x 10 x 10). During this time the souls of believers who die in the faith are raised to spiritual perfection and reign in life with Christ in heaven above (Rom. 5:17). This is the first resurrection. At the end of the age Satan is released from his restraints and gathers the unbelieving world against the Church for the Last Battle. However, Christ swiftly returns to raise the dead, judge the world, consign the unrighteous to the Lake of Fire, and bring in the eternal World to Come. While the dispensational view, for many reasons, strains all credulity, the amillennial view paints a realistic, sobering, but ultimately hopeful picture of the world in which we live, and the world to which we’re heading.

Dispensational teaching: Concerning chapters 21–22, we hold different views. All of us look for new heavens and a new earth. All of us look for a physical city: the eternal habitation of the saints. Many of us look for a physical tree and water of life, albeit with spiritual significance, properties, and benefits. Some of us say that the middle wall between Jew and Gentile will be removed once and for all. Others say it will endure forever.

 Amillenarian reply: Yes, chapters 21–22 give us the eternal World to Come; but no, we should not bring a literalist hermeneutic with us when we enter it. Here the Spirit depicts the Church—comprised of all God’s people of all time—not only as a Bride, but also as a City. She is the Bridal City, forever dwelling in glory in the new creation. The throne of God and the Lamb, the river of the water of life, the tree of life, its fruits and its leaves—all are spiritual realities rather than physical objects. All are symbols, teaching us that the sovereign Father and Son, by the Holy Spirit, will forever refresh, nourish, and maintain the good health of their beloved children and Bride in the glorious World to Come.3


Why the Dispensational Interpretation Fails

Praiseworthy as they are for their strong commitment to an inspired and perspicuous Bible, our dispensational brothers have stumbled badly in their interpretation of (OTKP and) the Revelation. Given the widespread popularity of this interpretation, it will serve us well to summarize the reasons why.

My seven-fold answer is as follows:

First, they have misunderstood the intended audience of the book, which is the Church, the whole Church, and nothing but the Church. The future of ethnic Israel is nowhere in view.

Secondly, they have misunderstood the nature and purpose of the book, failing to see that it is an extended prophecy designed to edify, exhort, and encourage the Church as she journeys through the wilderness of this present evil world.

Thirdly, they have misunderstood the underlying theme of the book, which is the heavenly mediatorial reign of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and who, throughout the entire EOP, rules the cosmos with a view to the ingathering, upbuilding, preservation, and final glorification of his Church.

Fourthly, they have misunderstood the literary genre of the book, which is (a unique species of) biblical apocalyptic. For this reason they have interpreted many persons, places, objects, and events of the Revelation literally, instead of typologically and figuratively. They have imported the literalist hermeneutic that they use to interpret OTKP into the Revelation, with the result that they have misunderstand both; for both refer to New Covenant realities, while (often) using Old Covenant imagery to describe them.

Fifthly, they have misunderstood the structure of the book, failing to see that its five major blocs are meant as a celebration of the heavenly reign of the exalted Christ, and that the very lengthy fourth bloc (chapters 6–20) gives us six parallel representations of the course and character of the High King’s heavenly reign.4

Sixthly, they also have failed to see that this structure rules out a futurist interpretation of the book, but instead mandates an idealist interpretation, according to which its key symbols (e.g., the Woman, the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, the Harlot, Babylon the Great, etc.) all stand for certain kinds of persons and institutions that Christ’s Church will encounter again and again in her pilgrimage through world history.

Finally, they have misunderstood the ancillary purpose of the Revelation, which is to give us the Grand Finale of All Scripture: a biblical movement that introduces no new themes (such as a secret rapture or future millennium), but instead simply rehearses and celebrates all that was previously disclosed in the Bible, but especially in the master key to the Bible: the Didactic New Testament.

In sum, our  dispensational brothers have stumbled over the Revelation because they have turned away from God’s appointed Teacher, the DNT, and clear NT instruction on the nature of the Kingdom of God, the Consummation, and OTKP.5 Instead, they have brought a literalist hermeneutic to OTKP, developed an exotic interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, and used both to create a Procrustean Bed into which they have forced the entire NT, including the Grand Finale of All Scripture: the Revelation.

Sadly, the result has been great complexity, confusion, and controversy.

Happily, a loving heavenly Father still points us all to the simple solution:

“Listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5).



1. For a critique of the dispensational view of Daniel 9, and an exposition of the Reformed Two-Advent View that I espouse, click here.

2. For short amillennial definitions of these and other key symbols in the Revelation, click here.

3. For a fuller exposition of the Revelation in amillennial perspective, click here and here.

4. For a diagram of the structure of the Revelation, click here.

5. To read an essay on how the NT apostles taught us to interpret OTKP, click here.

Think for a moment about your favorite symphony. Now think about its final movement. What is it that makes the final movement of a symphony into a grand finale? Three simple answers come to my 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 to his audience with a final burst of artistic power and panache.

Secondly, it reprises the themes that the composer gave us in the previous movements. When it does, however, it does so “grandly.” Here the composer skillfully weaves together all his earlier motifs, so that we not only hear them again, but also hear them afresh, 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.

Finally, precisely because it is a grand finale, it does not typically introduce any new musical themes. Instead, the composer devotes himself more or less exclusively to a fresh, inspiring, and majestic recapitulation of the old.

All three of these observations apply to the Revelation, and in a way that helps us understand it to its 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 that it should be the last book, since it is so thoroughly taken up with the last things: the Last Days, the Last Battle, the (last) Resurrection, and the (last) Judgment, the last two of which occur at the last Coming of the Last Man (1 Cor. 15:45). 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 (21:18-19). The Revelation is the Book of the End; therefore it rightly appears at the end of the Book (1:8; 2:26; 21:6; 22:13).

Like a grand finale, the Revelation also incorporates various biblical texts, historical references, theological doctrines, and images and numbers drawn from the preceding movements of Holy Scripture, both Old Testament and New. The allusions super-abound. There are references to the Garden of Eden, Moses, the Exodus, Elijah, Mount Zion, the Temple, the birth of Jesus, the murderous cruelty of Herod, the preaching of the disciples two by two, and Christ’s resurrection, ascension, session, heavenly reign, and Parousia.

These only scratch the surface. Westcott and Hort, Bible translators and commentators, counted nearly 400 references to the OT in the Revelation. Some 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. It is a final prophetic word to the universal Church, clothed in raiment woven together from all that has gone before it. As such, it is not only prophetic scripture, but also the Grand Finale of All Scripture.

If so, the implications are important. For if the Revelation really is the Grand Finale of All Scripture, then we should not expect it to 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 indeed the case. Here there is nothing new, nothing other than what Christ and the apostles have already taught us in the New Testament. There is nothing new about the trinity, the creation, the fall, the eternal covenant, the nature and structure of the Kingdom of God, or the Consummation at Christ’s return. Rather, we simply find the Holy Spirit speaking to us over and again about these old and well-established truths. However, when he does, he does so in new and astonishing 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 the One who is the grand theme of Holy Scripture: the High King of heaven and earth.

All evangelical Christians are aware of the great debate surrounding biblical eschatology, and most realize that the nub of the controversy centers around the proper interpretation of Revelation 20. Therefore, please let this convinced amillennarian close with a few questions.

If, as I have suggested, the Revelation really is the Grand Finale of All Scripture, then does not this simple fact greatly help us to resolve the debate?  For 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 1000-year earthly reign of Christ)? Moreover, what if that theme had not been mentioned in any other part of the Revelation? What if it was never mentioned in the rest of the New Testament? What if it was never mentioned in the Old Testament? What if it could not be harmonized with the eschatology of the Revelation, the OT, or the NT? And finally, what if embracing it threatened to destroy the eschatological harmony that previously existed between them all?

Yes, the Grand Finale of All Scripture has much to teach the contestants in the great end time debate. My prayer is that we all may hear it, thrill to it, come together, and come home.

In this post I offer an amillennial perspective on the meaning of key numbers and images found in the Revelation.

As you will see, I rarely, if ever, understand them literally. Rather, I understand them typologically and figuratively. I view them as symbols—drawn by the Holy Spirit from both the Old and New Testaments—designed to speak to the Church about her life under the New Covenant, her relationship with the High King of heaven, and her long, difficult, but also fruitful and ultimately triumphant journey through the wilderness of this world and into the Promised Land.

This post will appear in an appendix of a book I am currently writing, giving readers a short, amillennial overview of the Revelation. For that reason, the list below does not contain many proof texts. I will supply those more fully in the body of the book, along with further comments on the topics in view.

The numbers in parentheses beside each entry indicate the chapter(s) in which the symbol is found.

I sincerely hope that this little glossary of key symbols—like the little book that the angel gave to the apostle John to eat—will be sweet in your mouth and nourishing to your soul, as you make your pilgrim way in the company of the High King.



1. The Seven Golden Lampstands (1): The seven churches in Asia, symbolizing, through the use of the number seven, the universal Church of all times and places.


2. The Seven Stars (1, 2, 3): The seven messengers (or angels) of the churches, likely sent to John to receive the Revelation and take it home to their respective cities; a symbol of all church leaders, and their privilege and duty to share the contents of this message with God’s people.


3. The Sword, Great and Sharp (1, 2, 19): The Word of God, emanating from the mouth of the Son of God, the High King of heaven; a powerful two-edged sword that, like a surgeon’s scalpel, has power both to heal and to harm.


4. The Throne of God (4): A symbol of the sovereignty of God the Father: the Creator, Ruler, Judge, and Redeemer of the universe.


5. The Four Living Creatures (4): Symbolizing the seraphim, who manifest the attributes of God and Christ, and who are caught up in the contemplation and worship of the glory of God (Is. 6:2). However, the fact that they are four in number signifies that these too, like all the other angels, have a ministry to the four corners of the earth below; that is, to all the heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:4).


6. The 24 Elders, Seated on 24 Thrones (4): The universal Church, comprised both of OT saints (symbolized by the number 12, for the patriarchs), and NT saints (symbolized by the number 12, for the apostles). Here the Church is styled as a company of elders, perhaps because, by God’s eternal decree, she has a share in the eternity of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9, 13, 22); but certainly because, being seen on 24 thrones surrounding the one throne of God, she has a share in his authority and power; and because, through Christ, she is destined to reign in life with him (Rom. 5:17).


7. The Seven Lamps Before the Throne (4): Explicitly identified as the seven spirits of God, which is yet another symbol pointing to the complete (7), many-faceted work of the one Holy Spirit in the earth below. Revelation 3:1 pictures the seven spirits of God in the hand of Christ, who, through the Spirit, is now at work, both in the Church and in the (history of the) world (John 15:26-25; Acts 2:33).


8. The Sea of Glass (4, 15): The infinite holiness of God, which, like a vast ocean, separates sinners from eternal life before his throne; but, as chapter 5 reveals, a sea that is now bridgeable, and a throne that is now accessible, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ.


9. The Scroll in the Father’s Right Hand (5): A last will and testament, containing the fullness of the inheritance of the saints, decreed in eternity by God the Father. Its contents will later be revealed in chapters 21-22, which describe the glory of the Bride of Christ and the Family of God in the World to Come.


10. The Seven Seals (5, 6, 8): The events of the Era of Gospel Proclamation, predestined to occur prior to the opening of the scroll and the saints’ reception of their full inheritance. According to the symbolism of chapter 5, the Lord Jesus Christ, the High King of heaven, alone has the qualifications, authority, and power to break the seals; that is, to bring these events to pass.


11. The Lamb with Seven Horns and Seven Eyes (5): The Redeemer, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ. In the days of his humiliation he served his people both as High Priest and Sacrifice: as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now, through his exaltation, the Lamb has perfect power (symbolized by seven horns) and perfect knowledge (symbolized by seven eyes), especially of the happenings on the earth below (5:6).


12. The Rider on the White Horse (6, 19): The exalted Lord Jesus Christ, riding out into the earth, by the Spirit, through the evangelizing Church, conquering for the cause of the Gospel, and bent on final conquest: the perfect fulfillment of God’s redemptive and judicial purposes for the world (Psalm 45; Rev. 19:11-18).


13. The Three Horsemen that Follow (6): War, economic disruption, and death (both physical and spiritual). These symbolize the judicial consequences of the going forth of the Gospel, and of its being spurned, whether temporarily or finally, by the unbelieving inhabitants of the earth.


14. The Souls Beneath the Altar (6): The souls of the (ever-increasing) company of martyrs, of those who sacrificed their (physical) lives for the person and cause of Christ. This is the Revelation’s first glimpse of the Intermediate State of the souls of believers who die in Christ. Here, the martyrs are portrayed as being aware of God’s purposes for the earth, and eager for the manifestation of his perfect justice.


15. The 144,000 Sealed Israelites (7, 14): The universal Church of all times and places, comprised of all the OT saints (12, for the patriarchs) and all the NT saints (12, for the apostles). 12  x  12  x 1000 = 144,000, a number symbolizing both the fullness and the largeness of the universal Church. As John’s next vision reveals, she is comprised of a great multitude of Jewish and Gentile believers, predestined to worship God forever before his throne, and upon the eschatological Mountain of God: the new heavens and the new earth.


16. The Seal of the Living God (7): The Holy Spirit, who, at the moment of saving faith in Christ, takes up eternal residence in the spirit, soul, and body of the believer. Mystically, the seal (or sealing mark) upon the forehead speaks of ownership, identity, and eternal security. The saint so marked now belongs to God, the family of God, and the Bride and Body of Christ; he now thinks of himself as such, and so has a new identity in Christ; and he now rejoices to know that he has been spared from judgment, and is eternally safe and secure in the Person, and through the Work, of his exalted Lord (Ezek. 9:4; John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30).


17. The Great Multitude Before the Throne (7, 14): The 144,000, but now represented as a great throng that no one could number, as many as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. Here they are seen in glory, eternally worshiping upon the eschatological Mountain of God (i.e., the new heavens and the new earth), and forever assembled with all the saints and angels before his throne.


18. The Seven Trumpets (8-11): Seven partial and preliminary judgments of God, falling upon the inhabitants of the earth throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation. These judgments are designed to warn sinners of the final judgment to come, and to drive them Christ for salvation.


19. The Three Woes (9-11): Identical with the final three trumpets, these are especially severe judgments, possibly symbolizing unique events predestined to occur just prior to the end of the age. The first and second woes depict increased demonic activity in the earth, leading both to torment and death. The martial symbolism predominating in chapter 9 suggests that these woes are inflicted, in large part, by demonically inspired war.


20. The Little Book (10): A symbol of the message that John will soon convey to the Church in chapter 11. The little book is sweet to his taste because it is the Word of God, and because it speaks of the good success of the evangelistic witness of the Church in the Era of Gospel Proclamation; but it is also bitter in his stomach, because it speaks of the Last Battle, and of the extraordinary persecution that will befall the true spiritual Church in the last of the last days.


21. The Sanctuary, the Altar, and the Outer Court (11): Using OT imagery derived from Jewish temple worship, the Spirit here speaks of the historical experience of the Church throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation. The Sanctuary of God is Christ, the only place where God and man can safely meet; the altar is the merit of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which makes the meeting possible; those who worship in the sanctuary are the saints, all who worship God through Christ in spirit and truth. The Outer Court symbolizes the visible, institutional Church, which, by God’s wise decree, will be subject to trampling (persecution) by the inhabitants of the earth throughout the Era of Proclamation.


22 The Two Witnesses (11): The evangelizing Church, which—like Jesus’ disciples sent out two by two—bears witness to the Person, Work, and Kingdom of Christ throughout the entire Era of Gospel Proclamation.


23. The War (11, 13, 16, 17, 19): Heralded many times in the Revelation, this is the Last Battle, the final conflict between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, the Church and the World. Here and elsewhere in the NT, it is consistently depicted as a brief, intense, global persecution of the true spiritual Church, swiftly brought to an end by the appearing of Christ in power and glory to rescue his beloved Bride and judge his (and her) enemies.


24. The 42 Months / 1260 Days/ a Time, Times, and Half a Time  (11, 12, 13): These numeric symbols stand for the Era of Gospel Proclamation. Their meaning is illuminated in Revelation 12, a chapter that combines allusions to Israel’s exodus from Egypt with allusions to Elijah’s 3 1/2 year sojourn in the wilderness of Judea. Thus, the numbers characterize the Era of Gospel Proclamation as a temporary season of eschatological journey, persecution, and exile (from the world’s favor), but also as a season of divine provision and protection, supplied from heaven above (1 Kings 17:2-6; James 5:17).


25. The Woman in the Sky (12): The universal Church, adorned with the heavenly bodies in order to symbolize her heavenly nature. At the outset of the chapter we see her as the Mother of Christ, and therefore as picturing the OT saints; later we see her as the Bride of Christ (and the Mother of the living), making her way through the wilderness of the world, and picturing the NT saints.


26. The Dragon in the Sky (12): Satan, not dwelling in the third heaven with God (as the Woman does), but in the air (Eph. 2:2), in the heavenly (spiritual) realms just above the earth (Eph. 6:12). In this chapter he is depicted as the cunning, unseen ruler of the world-system, but also as a frustrated and angry tyrant, whose evil kingdom is now in slow-motion collapse, thanks to the Person and Work of Christ and the ongoing evangelistic ministry of his Bride (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).


27. The Son Caught up to God and His Throne (12): The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Last Adam, who, because of his earthly obedience and humiliation, is now seated in heaven at the right hand of God, with authority to rule both the Church and the world, and to administer last judgment at the end of the age. Between the lines, Revelation 12 shows him progressively overthrowing the kingdom of Satan, even as his Bride, through the proclamation of the Gospel, begets more and more children for the family of God.


28. The Woman in the Wilderness (12): The true spiritual Church in her NT embodiment, journeying through the wilderness of this world, making her way to the Promised Land, inviting the inhabitants of the earth to join her, persecuted by many among them, but also protected and provided for by her spiritual husband, the High King of heaven.


29. The Two Wings of the Great Eagle (12): Word and Spirit, Law and Grace, continually supplied to the Woman so that She, using her wings, can fly to the place that God (the Great Eagle) has prepared for her (Deut. 32:11).


30. The Place of Nourishing, Prepared for the Woman (12): Ultimately, Christ; but in particular, Christ mediated to the Woman by the Holy Spirit, through the various means of grace: word, prayer, fellowship, and sacrament.


31. The Beast from the Sea (13, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20): The first of the three main helpers of the Dragon; the political or governmental face (embodiment) of the fallen world-system; world rulers, governments, and empires, to the extent that they operate contrary to the will of God and are active in the persecution of God’s people. The sea represents fallen humanity, from which Satan, in an effort to establish a permanent global kingdom, repeatedly summons empire after empire, and government after government, onto the stage of history (Gen. 10; Dan. 7). However, God, the ultimate sovereign over world history, repeatedly frustrates his efforts, since they are permeated with evil, and since God alone has the power and prerogative of creating, through his Son, an eternal universal Kingdom based on love, rather than on the lust for power.


32. The Beast from the Earth / the False Prophet (13, 16, 19, 20): The second instrument of the Dragon; the religious and ideological face of the world-system, especially insofar as it consorts with the Beast in order to promote the Beast’s blasphemous self-exaltation as the proper object of human worship.


33. The Mark of the Beast (13, 14, 16, 19, 20): Darkly analogous to the seal of the living God, this too is a symbol of ownership and identity, fatefully taken when any inhabitant of the earth yields his supreme allegiance to anti-Christian rulers and their governments. Henceforth, such a person belongs to the Beast (and the Dragon), self-identifies as his committed subject, and, unless he repents and turns to Christ, will share in his eternal punishment (John 19:15; Rev. 14:11; 19:20).


34. The Number of the Name of the Beast (13): The number of the Beast is 666. Here the Spirit exhorts the saints to work out (the meaning of) the number, explaining that it is the number of man (13:18). According to biblical numerology, six is the number of man (Gen. 1:24-31) and three is the number of the Trinity (Matt. 3:16-17). Therefore, 666 is the number of fallen man aspiring to, and usurping the place of, the triune God. Throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation, the Beast continually does this very thing. All who surrender to him have taken his mark and his number upon their foreheads or their hands: In thought, word, and deed they belong to him. They have become worshipers of man, and not of the one true living God.


35. The Song of Moses (15): The song of the resurrected and transformed saints, all of whom have just passed through the eschatological Red Sea (the Judgment), and now are standing on its far shore in the Promised land (the new heavens and the new earth), where they celebrate the righteous judgments of God. Those judgments include, preeminently, the judgment that Christ bore on the Cross in the place of his people, but also the subsequent judgment of God, who declared them to be holy and righteous when they placed their faith in Christ. And here, on the other side of the Red Sea, they now have become holy and righteous—in body, soul, and spirit—, and therefore rejoice with exceedingly great joy (Jude 24-25).


36. The Seven Bowls of God’s Completed Wrath (15-16): All the final judgments of God poured out onto the earth and its sinful inhabitants during the Era of Gospel Proclamation.


37. The Battle of Armageddon (16): Another symbol of the Last Battle, again employing OT history and imagery to speak symbolically about the final conflict between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, the Church and the World.


38. The Harlot (17): The third instrument of the Dragon, symbolizing the commercial and cultural face of the fallen world-system, and depicting it as a temptress of the world and a persecutor of the Church. Both of the women in the Revelation beckon to the inhabitants of the earth: the Bride, that they would join her in her journey to eternal life, and the Harlot, that they would join her in drinking from her golden cup full of abominations. Unavoidably, each inhabitant of the earth must decide which woman he will embrace.


39. Babylon the Great (18): The City of Man, lusting for greatness (14, 16, 17), as opposed to the City of God, longing for holiness (11, 21, 22). In essence, Great Babylon is identical with the Harlot, and is slated for destruction at the Judgment. Accordingly, both the Spirit and the Church plead with God’s people (his elect) to come out of her, so that they will neither partake of her sins nor receive of her plagues on the last day.


40. The 1000 Years (20): In the Bible, ten is the number of completeness, three is the number of the Trinity, and one thousand is the number of magnitude. Therefore, the number 1000 tells the Church two things about the Era of Gospel Proclamation. First, it will be long, longer than most of the saints expect. But secondly, it also will be fruitful. 10  x  10  x  10 = 1000. So this number tells the Church that during the Era of Gospel Proclamation the Trinity (3) will complete (10) the application of the redemption that her Lord purchased for her during his days upon the earth; it is a divine promise of the spiritual fruitfulness of the evangelizing Bride of Christ. Though the Millennium has now lasted over 2000 literal years, the saints understand that this redemptive fruitfulness makes the wait well worthwhile.


41. The Binding of Satan (20): The spiritual restraint of Satan throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation, so that he cannot deceive God’s elect in such a way as to prevent them from coming to Christ; nor can he deceive the nations in such a way as to bring them against the Church for the Last Battle. Not, that is, until the end.


42. The First Resurrection (20): At the moment of physical death, the raising of the spirits of the saints to spiritual perfection in heaven above, where they will reign with Christ—in life, over all their previous spiritual enemies—throughout (the remainder of) the Era of Gospel Proclamation.


43. The Judgment Given to the Saints (20): The privilege of participating, with Christ, in the final judgment of the saints and angels (Dan. 7:9, 26-27; 1 Cor. 6:2-14; Rev. 2:16-27).


44. The Great White Throne (20): An emblem of the holiness and sovereignty of the One seated upon it, and also of the perfect justice of the judgments he is about to render.


45. The One Seated Upon It (20): God the Father, but here in the Person of his glorified Son: the High King of heaven and the God-appointed judge of all humanity, which now, in their resurrected or transformed bodies, stands before him.


46. The Scrolls (20): The record—lodged both in the mind of God and the minds of men—of a person’s deeds done in the body during his days upon earth. The opening of the scrolls is for the purpose of determining the reward or retribution merited by a person’s deeds.


47. The Scroll of Life (20): The register, lodged in the mind of the triune God, of the names of all who, during their days on earth, trusted in the Person and Work of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the reception of the free gift of eternal life.


48. The Holy City, New Jerusalem (21): The Church, the Bride of Christ, the Bridal City of God, recently descended from the sky, now inhabiting the eschatological Paradise of God: the new heavens and the new earth. Resting upon on the foundation of the divine truth witnessed by God’s holy apostles and prophets (symbolized by the twelve foundation stones), she has the glory of God (symbolized by precious gems, pearls, and gold), eternal security (symbolized by high walls of salvation, all erected by Christ), and eternal access, both to God and to God in one another (symbolized by her eternally open gates).


49. The River of the Water of Life (22): The life of God and the Lamb, flowing to and through holy City by the Holy Spirit.


50. The Tree of Life (22): The glorified Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, like the leaves of a medicinal tree, maintains to all eternity the health and well-being of the nations of saints who trusted in him.

Note: This essay is extracted from my book, The Great End Time Debate: Issues, Options, and Amillennial Answers (Redemption Press). Here is a key to some of the acronyms you will encounter:

OTKP = Old Testament Kingdom Prophecies
NCH = New Covenant Hermeneutic (the NT method for interpreting the OT in general, and OTKP in particular)
DNT = Didactic New Testament (the explicitly teaching portions of the NT)


Premillennarians generally agree that this OTKP speaks about the future of ethnic Israel. Beyond that, they differ widely among themselves. Some say it has already been partially fulfilled in the recent return of millions of Russian and European Jews to Palestine. Others (i.e., dispensationalists) say it will be fulfilled during a seven-year tribulation, when a believing remnant of Jews will fan out across the globe to gather their dispersed brethren back to their ancestral homeland, there to await the Second Coming of their Messiah (Isa. 66:18–21). Still others argue that it will be fulfilled after Christ’s return, when, through the same faithful remnant, the Lord will gather his far-flung Jewish brethren to rule with him during the Millennium.

But might there be a different interpretation, an interpretation that unites all Christians and speaks to them in the here and now? “Yes,” says the NCH, “there is. And when you see it, you will rise to your feet and find yourself running to the Gospel battle!”

Let us consider it now.

In Ezekiel’s previous Oracles of Good News God had given his people glorious promises of an ultimate eschatological restoration. Among other things, he had promised to bring them back from captivity (34:12–13; 36:24), cleanse them of their filthiness and idolatry (36:25; 36:33), give them a new heart (36:26), place his Spirit within them (36:27), set his servant David over them as Prince and King (34:23–24), and grant them eternal peace and prosperity on the mountains of Israel (34:13–15, 25–31; 36:8–15, 33–38). Thus shall the great promise of the Covenant be fulfilled: In an eternal homeland purged of sin and secured from judgment, the LORD will be their God and they will be his people—forever (36:28; cf. 37:24–28).

Here in chapter 37 Ezekiel gives us a mysterious vision of how all this will come to pass: Because of the greatness of God’s grace, a people lying dead in the Valley of the Shadow Death will soon be miraculously transformed and definitively transferred: planted once and for all upon the mountains of Israel, where they will forever live in peace and prosperity with their Messiah and their covenant-keeping God.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death (vv. 1–2)

The vision begins with the LORD carrying Ezekiel in the Spirit to a valley where he beholds a great multitude of bones scattered over the face of the ground. Upon close inspection he realizes that they are “very dry”—that is, long dead, and therefore thoroughly dead (vv. 1–2). Reading these verses, the Jews in exile may well have recalled how Jeremiah had predicted that the Babylonians would fill the accursed Valley of Topheth with the bones of the inhabitants of sinful Jerusalem (Jer. 7:32–8:2). But God does not name this valley, and for good reason: The vision does not speak of a physical place, but of a spiritual condition. This is the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Ps. 23:4; 107:10, 14; Isa. 9:2; Jer. 2:6; Luke 1:79). This is the great spiritual wasteland into which God, because of the sin of Adam, cast all the sinful exiles of Eden (Gen. 3:22–24; Luke 4:5–7; Rev. 12:6, 14). This is the Domain of Darkness, whose unregenerate inhabitants, despite having a reputation that they live, are in fact completely dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1–10; Col. 1:13; 2:13; Rev. 3:1).

Can These Bones Live? (v. 3)

Now that the inspection is complete, God has a question for the prophet: “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel well understands that nothing is too hard for the LORD (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27). However, not knowing what the bones symbolize, he is uncertain as to whether or not God wills for them to live. So he responds, “Lord God, You Yourself know” (v. 3). This calls to mind Christ’s exchange with his incredulous disciples, when they asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’s answer applies here: “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). The sovereign LORD can indeed save spiritually dead sinners. Moreover, in the case of his elect, nothing in Heaven or upon the earth can stop him from doing so (John 6:37; 10:16).

Prophesy to Them! (vv. 4–6)

In verses 4–6 we hear God’s command to Ezekiel: He must prophesy to the dry bones, telling them that God will put sinew and flesh upon them, cover the flesh with skin, and fill the bodies with breath so that they will live again and come to the knowledge of the One who has just raised them from the dead.

These verses speak of a creation. The imagery clearly recalls the creation of Adam, whose body God formed from the dust of the earth, and then brought to life by breathing the breath of life into his nostrils (Gen. 2:7). Here, however, we are dealing with something different. This is a re-creation. And it is a spiritual re-creation rather than a physical. The NT tells us that Christ himself willaccomplish it (John 20:19–23), with the result that his people will know both him and his Father as their sovereign Creator and Redeemer (John 14:15–20). A NT paraphrase of God’s message to Ezekiel might go like this: “In that day God will regenerate a great multitude of elect sinners (i.e., his Church), raising them up from the spiritual death that they inherited from the First Adam, and bringing them to an eternal newness of life that they will inherit through the Last” (Rom. 6:1–4; 1 Cor. 15:45; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1).

Does this prophecy also allude to the resurrection of the body? To be sure. However, it does so in a manner that awaits further light on the (two) stages of the Kingdom. That light is given in the DNT, where we learn that a saint’s spiritual resurrection (through faith in Christ) precedes, prepares for, and guarantees his bodily resurrection, which is set to occur at the end of the present evil age (John 5:24–29; 11:25–26; Rom. 6:5). So then: Ezekiel 37 does indeed allude to the resurrection of the body, but that is not its focus. Its focus is the spiritual resurrection of the Israel of God: the Church (Gal. 6:16). Before she can attain the resurrection of the body, something spiritual must occur: She must first be spiritually resurrected, spiritually assembled, and led out by God into spiritual war (Ezek. 37:10; 38–39; Rom. 6:1-14).

Come, O Breath, So That They May Live! (vv. 7–10)

In verses 7–10 we find the prophet doing exactly as he was bidden. Moreover, when he does, all unfolds exactly as God said it would. Such mighty prophesying pictures the spiritually re-creative power of the Gospel in the mouth of the prophetic Church (Rom. 1:16; 10:17; Col. 1:6; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23; Rev. 11:1–3).

In accordance with the pattern laid down in Genesis, Ezekiel sees that the eschatological re-creation will occur in two stages. First, the dead bones will become bodies (vv. 7–8), then the dead bodies will become living bodies, for the breath (i.e., the Spirit) of God stands them on their feet, henceforth ready to serve as an exceedingly great army (vv. 9–10). All of this pictures the ongoing creation of the Church Militant throughout the Era of Proclamation. In a microcosm it was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell upon and filled 120 “rattling bones” who had previously come together in one place (Acts 2:1). As a result, they stood up boldly to wage a loving holy war in the name of Christ and the Gospel (Acts 2; 4; 10; 13). But the vision will continue to be fulfilled right up to the end of the age, whenever and wherever God assembles, builds up, and sends out the Body of Christ through interaction with his Spirit and his (Gospel) Word (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:12, 15–16; Col. 2:18–19).

Notably, this ecclesiological interpretation is supported by verse 9, which represents the Spirit as coming from the four winds. This alludes to the four corners of the earth, from which God will gather his universal Church, comprised of Jew and Gentile (Mark 13:27; Rev. 7:1–8). It is also supported by verse 10, in which eschatological “Israel” is portrayed as an exceedingly great army, a metaphor repeatedly used to describe the NT Church, who are cast as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (Luke 14:31; 1 Cor. 9:7; Eph. 6:10–18; 2 Tim. 2:3; Rev. 19:14).

The Whole House of Israel (vv. 11–14)

In verses 11–14 God finally interprets the vision for Ezekiel. It is yet another oracle of eschatological “Israel’s” restoration (Gal. 6:16). Ethnic Jews will indeed be among them, for in many times and places they have felt themselves hopelessly lost and cut off. But so too have multitudes of Gentiles (v. 11; Matt. 4:12–16; 15:25; Eph. 2:12); and since, through Christ, they also will enter the Eternal Covenant, God will not be ashamed to call them “my people” (Rom. 9:25–26; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 2:11; 8:10; 11:16; Rev. 18:4).

God’s promise to them is manifold: He will raise them up from the grave of spiritual death, transport them to their heavenly homeland, and plant them on the top of his Holy Mountain (v. 12; Ezek. 36:8–15; 40:1–2; Gal. 4:26; Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1). Note carefully from the conclusion of the prophecy that when this happens his people will realize that the great transformation was not of their own doing. Rather, God himself, by his sovereign grace, was the One who made them alive together with Christ, raised them up together with Christ, and caused them to be seated together with Christ in the heavenly places. There they will enjoy the glories of the Zion above (and vicissitudes upon the earth below) until the happy day when the High King returns and raises them bodily for eternal life in the glorious Homeland to Come (v. 13–14; John 15:16; Rom. 8:28–30; 1 Cor. 1:26–31; Eph. 2:4–10; Titus 3:4–7; 1 John 3:14; Rev. 14:1; 21:1–5).

By pushing this prophecy into a distant millennial future, and by limiting its fulfillment to ethnic Israel, prophetic literalism turns it into a valley of dry bones. But when the NCH breathes upon it, how the dry bones live!


For all its doctrinal complexity, this lengthy eschatological text was written primarily out of deep pastoral concern. As verses 1–2 make plain, a rumor was circulating among the Thessalonian house churches to the effect that the Day of the Lord had come: that it was imminent. Since this rumor was troubling the brethren, distracting them from their spiritual mission and daily responsibilities, Paul addressed it pointedly. His message is clear: The Day of the Lord will not come until certain things happen first; until certain unmistakable signs appear on the historical horizon. Therefore, until you see those signs, stand firm (v. 15) and stay busy (v. 17; 3:6–13).

Because this passage informs the Church about important events leading up to the Consummation, it demands close attention. My approach will be to give the gist of each section and to spotlight the many characteristics indicating that Paul presupposed a single Consummation at the Parousia of Christ.

An Urgent Request (vv. 1–2)

Verses 1–2 give us the apostle’s urgent request. The subject matter is threefold: The Coming of Christ (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23), the gathering together of the saints to him (i.e., the “Catching Up” of 1 Thess. 4:17), and the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:2). Dispensationalists assert that the gathering together is distinct from the Day of the Lord, with seven years between the two. But Paul says no such thing. On the contrary, the juxtaposition of these closely related subjects makes it quite clear that he has in mind a single Consummation. Yes, each is a discrete event; but the discrete events are elements of a single Momentous Event. If the concerned apostle and pastor thought otherwise, would he not have said so?

As for the request itself, it may be paraphrased thus: “Don’t let any evil spirit, any false teaching or prophecy, or any fake letter as if from one of us apostles persuade you that the Day of the Lord has come, and so shake you from your proper spiritual composure” (see Mark 13:5–6). Concerning the crucial verb “has come,” the NIV Study Bible well remarks: “Obviously, Christ’s climactic return had not occurred, but Paul was combating the idea that the final days  had begun and their completion would be imminent.” “No,” says the apostle, “certain things must happen first; certain signs must appear on the stage of history.” This simple truth, directly contradicted by dispensational teaching on the Rapture, is of great importance for all of God’s people, but especially for those who will live and serve in the last of the last days. By holding firmly to it, Christians should be well able to keep their cool, even at the end of the world.

It Will Not Come Until (vv. 3–5)

What exactly are the telltale signs that will enable them to do so? In the Olivet Discourse the Lord had identified several. Here, Paul focuses on just two, presumably because they are especially important and will occur closest to the end. They are the rebellion (Greek: apostasia) and the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness (or the Antichrist).

Concerning the first of these, it is true that the New Testament anticipates a large-scale apostasy, or falling away from the (profession of) faith, at the time of the end (Matt. 24:10–12; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1–9). Here, however, the close association of the apostasia with the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness strongly suggests a causal relation. If so, it is surely best to follow the NIV and ESV in translating apostasia as rebellion. On this reading, Paul is saying that the Day of the Lord will not come until the corrupt world system fully and finally rebels against the Law and Gospel of God, paving the way for Satan to go public with his counterfeit christ, and for the fallen world system to follow after him (vv. 10–11; Matt. 24:12; Rev. 13:3).

As for the Man of Lawlessness, Paul draws freely upon OT prophecy to give us the gist of his character and very short career (vv. 3–4; Dan. 7:8, 20–21, 25; 9:26–27; 11:36). Though Paul does not use the word, it is clear that he thinks of this man, above all, as an antichrist. As the apostle John would put it, he is the final human embodiment of “the spirit of Antichrist,” and so is the Antichrist himself (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3).

Very importantly, the Greek word anti means against or instead of. We see both meanings here and throughout our text. The Man of Lawlessness will act against Christ, even as he blasphemously tries to act instead of Christ as the appointed prophet, priest, and king of the world. Verses 3–5 give us several illustrations of this all-pervading motif.

Like Christ at his first and second comings, the Man of Lawlessness will be revealed in his proper time; his time, however, will be (cut) short, since he, unlike Christ, is “a son of destruction”—that is, a man “doomed to destruction” (v. 3; 2 Thess. 1:7; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Peter 1:7, 13; 1 John 3:2).

Unlike Christ, who loved the Father and delighted to do his will, the Man of Lawlessness will oppose every so-called god or object of worship, including the one true living God and his divine Son (vv. 4, 8; John 8:28; Heb. 10:7). He will stand against the triune God and his people.

Finally, acting instead of Christ, the Man of Lawlessness will exalt himself, “taking his seat in the sanctuary [or, temple] of God, displaying himself as God” (v. 4). This verse calls to mind the sin of (the archangel?) Lucifer, who, from the very beginning, has sought to exalt himself above God, and to usurp the worship that properly belongs to the LORD (Is. 14:13–14; Matt. 4:9). In the Man of Lawlessness—who will present himself as God incarnate—he (Satan) will briefly achieve his goal: The whole (unregenerate) world will worship him (Rev. 13:8).

This, I believe, is the sense of Paul’s words about “the sanctuary,” (Greek, naos: the inmost, and therefore most sacred, part of a temple). He is not looking for the Man of Lawlessness to seat himself in the temple at Jerusalem, from which, in Paul’s day, he could hardly have been expected to gain a worldwide following. Still less is he looking for him to seat himself in the Church, since at the time of this letter the Church had neither institutional status nor spiritual credibility in the eyes of the Gentile world (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). Rather, he is simply looking for the Man of Lawlessness to present himself as God incarnate, thereby seating himself in the place of the universal worship rightfully belonging to God and Christ (Is. 14:13-14).1

Note from verse 5 that Paul had previously taught the Thessalonians about these things, and is therefore surprised that they have already forgotten them. Now if, as dispensationalists admonish us, the Church is to look only for Christ (i.e., at a secret Rapture), and never for the Antichrist (i.e., as a sign of Christ’s Coming), why does Paul tell the Thessalonians to do the exact opposite? The answer is clear: He never told them to look for a secret Rapture. Rather, he told them to look for the one Coming of Christ, but also for the foremost sign of that Coming: the appearance of the Antichrist. Armed with such wisdom, no believer can fall prey to false prophecies about an “any moment” return of Christ—as all too many of our dispensational brethren have.

The Restrainer (vv. 6–7)

Seeking to keep the Thessalonians on their spiritual toes, Paul now reminds them that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work (v. 7). He means that the spirit of Antichrist (i.e., Satan and his demon hosts) is now abroad in the world, eager to raise up the Antichrist himself: the Man of Lawlessness (1 John 2:18). For the moment, God is restraining Satan from doing so—through what instrumentality, Paul does not say, since he spoke of this earlier when he was with them. Possibly he has in mind a (Roman) ruler (something he would be loath to mention in a letter), or an angel, or simply the power and person of the Holy Spirit himself (Rom. 13:1–7; Rev. 12:7). In any case, his inspired words assure the Church that the restrainer will continue to restrain Satan until God, at his good pleasure, takes him out of the way. Since this must happen, and since it could happen without warning, the saints must stand watch.

In passing, let us note how closely these verses parallel the teaching of Revelation 20 (Rev. 20:1–3, 7–10). In both cases we learn that Satan is bound and the Church free to fulfill her mission of global evangelism until God removes the restrainer, thereby, in swift succession, releasing the devil for a little season, bringing forth the Man of Lawlessness, bringing on the Last Battle, and bringing back the High King of Heaven and Earth. Thus shall the sovereign God work all things together for the good of those who love him, of those who are the called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28 NKJV).

The Deceptive Career of a Counterfeit Christ (vv. 8–14)

In verses 8–12 Paul again takes up his theme of the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness, this time going into greater detail about his brief, dramatic, and dangerously deceptive career. In so doing, he also gives us an astonishing disclosure, not simply of a sovereign God, but also of a sovereign God with a flair for the dramatic.

In particular, for wise reasons God has ordained that at the end of Salvation History Satan will be allowed to raise up a counterfeit prophet, priest, king, kingdom, and “god-man” who, in many ways, will darkly mirror the Person and Work of the true Christ. Here we have the final manifestation of the principle laid down in the Protoevangelium and the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: Both Christ and Satan will have their own kingdom and people, sown together in the same earth, growing side by side, and running closely parallel to each other until the Day of Judgment and final separation at the end of the age (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 12:22–30; 13:36–43; Luke 4:6; Rev. 14:14–16). Knowing this, the apostle is at pains to show that the Man of Lawlessness is doubly an antichrist: Not only does he oppose Christ, but he also apes him—powerfully, deceptively, and dangerously. Yet for all that, he and his evil career are in the omnipotent grip of the true God and the true Christ, who will by no means allow his little ones to be deceived (Matt. 24:24; John 10:5).

Accordingly, Paul begins by telling the Thessalonians what will happen when the restrainer is removed: The Lawless One will be revealed, much as Christ was revealed in the days of his flesh (and will again be revealed in the Day of the Lord). Unexpectedly, yet quite significantly, Paul does not immediately describe his evil career. Instead, he first speaks of his destruction: The Lord himself will slay him with the breath of his mouth at the appearing (epiphaneia) of his coming (parousia) (Is. 11:4). The message here is both clear and comforting: The career of the Lawless One will be exceedingly short, brought swiftly to an end by the return of Christ in judgment. Therefore, the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness is the single most important sign of the imminence of the end—and, in its own way, a great encouragement to the (suffering) saints of God (Luke 21:28).

In verse 9 Paul resumes his teaching about the career of the Lawless One. Now, however, he speaks of his coming. Again, this word denotes the arrival of a powerful dignitary, as of an emperor or a king. Just as Christ, in the days of his flesh, arrived on the scene with great power and authority, so too will the Lawless One. Just as God the Father enabled Christ to perform signs and true wonders, so too will Satan—the spiritual father of the Lawless One—enable his son to perform signs and “lying” (i.e., real, but misleading) wonders (John 8:44; Rev. 13:2, 4). The Lord Jesus himself warned his disciples of this very thing (Matt. 24:24). Later, John the Revelator will do the same (Rev. 13:13–14; 16:14; 19:20). Let not the saints forget.

According to verse 10, when the Lawless One appears he will come not only with counterfeit miracles, but also with “every deception of wickedness.” This deception will include “the lie”—a false but very winsome gospel: a new, alternative religion. It will work. Multitudes who did not welcome the true Gospel of Christ will believe the false gospel of the Antichrist, and so perish (v. 11; Rev. 13:3).

Because the Lawless One will gain a large following, and because it is important for the saints to understand why, Paul is moved to explain. He does so in verses 11–13. He has just said that the Man of Lawlessness will deceive multitudes because “. . . they did not welcome the love of the truth” (v. 10). The Greek here is dechomai, a word that can mean to welcome or to receive. In this case, both senses are applicable, bringing into view the biblical tension between man’s freedom and responsibility on the one hand, and God’s sovereignty on the other.

Why will latter day unbelievers fall prey to the deceptions of the Antichrist? It will be because they did not welcome the message of the truth, but chose instead to take pleasure in unrighteousness (v. 12; Eph. 1:13). Consequently, the God of judgment will hand them over to a deluding influence, so that they will believe “the lie” and stand condemned, together with their god. Here Paul depicts unbelievers as free agents who are responsible to take and pass the Gospel test (John 3:16-21; Acts 13:46).

Nevertheless, through a fervent personal expression of thanksgiving, he would teach his converts always to ascribe their salvation to God: the God who loved and chose them from the beginning, and who—through the proclamation of the Gospel, and by the sanctifying work of the Spirit—called them to saving faith Christ (vv. 13-14; Eph. 1:3–14). The Thessalonians are to realize that they freely welcomed the truth of the Gospel only because they had received the love of the truth as a gift from the sovereign God (Matt. 5:6; 13:10–17; John 8:43–45; 1 Thess. 1:2–5).


Reading this challenging text, Christ’s Church is taught to understand, fear, and rejoice. One day up ahead Satan will unveil his man. When he does, few on earth will discern or resist him since his person and work will hew so closely to Person and Work of the true Christ. Like Christ, the Antichrist will have a coming and a revelation. Like Christ, he will have a spiritual father who leads and empowers him. Like Christ, he will perform supernatural signs and wonders. Like Christ, he will proclaim a gospel of salvation. Like Christ, he will have a flock and a kingdom, both of which will seem larger and more powerful than those of the Good Shepherd.

In short, things will be just as the Truth himself said: “For false messiahs and false prophets will arise; and they will display great signs and wonders, so great that even the elect would be led astray, if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). Let his little flock therefore give thanks to the sovereign God who has chosen them, and who has promised to keep them from all deception. But let them also be ever vigilant to receive and welcome the love of the truth, both now and in the dark days immediately prior to the Second Coming of the Light of the World (2 Thess. 2:9, 13). For it is he who endures to the end that will be saved (Matt. 24:13; Jude v. 24).


     1. All that said, we should not rule out the possibility that the eschatological Antichrist may emerge from, or be associated with, a nominally Christian institution. For the moment, the Roman Catholic Church appears to be the likeliest candidate. Here are some further remarks on this subject, excerpted from my book, The High King of Heaven.

During and after the Reformation most Protestant leaders taught that 2 Thess. 2:4 was/is fulfilled in the papacy. For them, the institution itself was the Antichrist, a spiritual usurper that for centuries had lawlessly seated itself in the temple of God (Christ’s Church), distorted the Gospel, and opposed and persecuted the true spiritual Church through the evil offices of compliant kings and princes. Given the nature of their vicissitudes, it is easy to see how the Reformers arrived at this conclusion. However, the conclusion itself does not fit well with the actual data of Scripture or history. The reasons are many. Paul represents the Antichrist as an individual man, not an institution. Strictly speaking, the popes did not exalt themselves above God, but at least postured themselves as his servants. Similarly, they directed men’s worship to God and Christ, even if they also misdirected it to Mary, the saints, the angels, and themselves (Rev. 19:10, 22:10). They did not claim to be God or Christ, but only to act as their vicars (i.e., representatives) on earth. They were not (preeminently) governmental or military leaders, as both the Old and New Testaments depict the Antichrist (Dan. 7, 11, 12; Rev. 13). Finally, they did not perform amazing miracles, as Paul says the Man of Lawlessness will. It appears, then, that the papacy is not Paul’s Man of Lawlessness. On the other hand, whatever Paul’s private opinion may have been, there is nothing in his inspired words to rule out the possibility that one day up ahead an individual pope, promulgating an egregiously mutant and highly politicized form of Catholicism, could become (or abet) the kind of Antichrist Paul here envisions. Unlikely as it may now seem, Christians should not rule out this possibility. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious institution in the world; it has a long history of skillfully lending the venerable name of Christ to its unscriptural teachings; it has an ugly history of persecuting the true spiritual Church; and even today it appears to be looking hard for ways to welcome (unconverted) Jews and Muslims into its fold. If, at the end of the age, there is to be an anti-christian one-world religion, surely the Roman Catholic Church is one of the best candidates presently on the scene to lead it. Alert Bible Christians, living in the last perilous days of deepest deception, would be wise to keep a sharp eye on what comes out of Rome. For more, see Kim Riddlebarger, The Man of Sin (Baker Books, 2010), chapter 7.

     2. This essay is taken from my book, The Great End Time Debate (Redemption Press, 2022). Available here.