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.


  1. This is a practical, though bold, way of teaching. As a partial-preterist amillennial, I appreciate your teaching. It may get the backs up of dispensationalists, purely from the style of “here’s what you believe and here’s why its wrong” but I pray the natural inner pride that may take immediate offence even before reading on may be overcome. I look forward to the full work, brother.

    1. Hey Matt, thank you for your kind words. I hope my approach was not needlessly offensive; I try hard to remember and express my appreciation for the fierce loyalty of my dispie brothers to an inspired, inerrant, and perspicuous Bible. We’re in this thing together!

      Now, at the risk of raising your hackles a bit, I’d ask you take a look at my essay on preterism. I did some serious wrestling with preterist claims, which have gained currency in some Reformed circles. Would love to hear your thoughts.


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